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Tech & Science Uber Air's plans for 1,000-strong Melbourne helicopter fleet revealed

02:52  28 february  2020
02:52  28 february  2020 Source:   msn.com

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Under its new Uber Air division, it' s working on a class of flying electric vehicles that can take off and ( Uber said it plans to open up some of the geo-fencing restrictions around the pickup locations in As it stands, nothing particularly sets the Uber Copter experience apart from any other helicopter you

The planned air fleet includes electric jet-powered vehicles - part helicopter , part drone and part fixed-wing aircraft.

a small boat in a body of water with a city in the background: Melbourne is one of three cities worldwide selected to run a trial for Uber Air. (Supplied: Uber) © Provided by ABC Business Melbourne is one of three cities worldwide selected to run a trial for Uber Air. (Supplied: Uber)

Ride-hailing giant Uber's plans for a helicopter-based service starting as soon as this year have been revealed, with previously secret documents detailing an ambition for a fast, noisy and busy service above its first Australian trial city, Melbourne.

"Flights will travel at an altitude of ~1,500 ft [457m] with speeds of up to 150-200 miles/hour [241-321 kilometres per hour] and a range of up to 60 miles [96 kilometres]," a key document reveals.

Uber has previously stated their target of an appropriate level of vehicle noise will be 67 decibels for a ground observer when the helicopter is at an altitude of 75 metres.

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“Our plan is to eventually roll out Uber Copter to more Uber customers and to other cities, but we want to do it The helicopters will be operated by HeliFlite, a Newark-based company with a fleet of Many helicopters , including those to be used by Uber Copter, have neither the space nor the weight

Uber Air is a commuter option from Uber on flying taxi eVTOL aircraft in Dallas, LA, and Melbourne . If all goes according to plan , Uber Air flying taxis will take off in Dallas, Los Angeles, and Melbourne in 2023, the company announced at its annual Uber Elevate Summit on Wednesday.

That is the same level as a vacuum cleaner or busy road.

Community researcher Petra Stock is concerned about the potential impact of the scheme.

Only scant details have been made public, until now.

"We don't know any specifics and we don't know the basics around how many helicopters, heliports and where these things are going to fly," she said.

"And then we don't know anything about the impact on privacy, for example, how they'll use our mobile and data networks … there's a long, long list of questions that we won't get answers to."

One thousand helicopters, 83 skyports

The documents marked, "Commercial in confidence: Highly sensitive — do not distribute", were accessed using the state's Freedom of Information (FOI) system.

They reveal a working group of state and federal regulators working with the company "to facilitate the process" and detail about the scale and ambition of the service.

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Uber plans to launch an advanced 'flying taxi' service between Melbourne CDB and Melbourne Airport in 2020, whisking business travellers and other Uber Air ' s 0 'flying taxi' rides between Melbourne CBD and airport. Give me the chop of a helicopter over the high pitched whine of a drone any day.

Uber presented a grandiose vision of flying vehicles whisking people around cities at its annual flying car conference Tuesday in Washington, DC, a day after a fatal helicopter crash raised safety questions about plans for increased air traffic over cities.

The helicopters "do not need to follow fixed routes", investment promotions agency Invest Victoria noted, "[and] tops of buildings and parking lots can easily be repurposed as skyports."

Uber has previously stated the trial cities — Melbourne, Los Angeles and Dallas — will require around 1,000 helicopters and 83 skyports to make the system work.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), which licenses pilots and oversees air safety, also confirmed the need for secrecy:

"Uber's expectation [is] … information would be kept commercially sensitive."

Also revealed in the documents is that Uber intends to use the model it has for car-sharing, where it positions itself simply as an "aggregator" connecting passengers and aircraft operators.

Uber is unlikely to be the applicant for the airworthiness certificate that permits an aircraft to take to the air, meaning pilots could be responsible for safety and maintenance of the helicopters, just as drivers in the Uber network operate now.

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Melbourne has been chosen as one of the latest testbeds for Uber ’ s helicopter -like flying ambitions which are due to set off with trials as soon as The Australian city is the third location to be selected and the first outside the US, joining Dallas and Los Angeles as a launch site for its future fleet of Uber

Melbourne , Victoria, will become one of just three cities worldwide to host the ambitious transport venture And the project could become still more futuristic* after its launch, with Uber planning to later The ride-sharing company revealed its Australian choice at the third Uber Elevate Summit in

Victoria 'brokering' Uber through regulatory hurdles

In a speech in Washington DC last year announcing Melbourne as a trial city, Victoria's Assistant Treasurer Robin Scott MP praised the scheme as holding the potential to become "an integral part of our region's transport system" that could help "lead a revolution in commuter travel" for Melbourne.

"Melbourne is the perfect place to help make aerial ridesharing a reality … global companies with offices in Melbourne can run 24/7 — and we're always one step ahead because it's already tomorrow in Australia," he said.

In notes prepared for the Minister, the purpose of the trip was listed as "to strengthen the Victorian Government's relationship with Uber Technologies Inc".

Further notes made the point that Australia's air safety regulator CASA "is known for being bold in welcoming new aircraft and systems".

Additionally, the notes committed the Victorian Government to "help Uber navigate the regulatory landscape and other aspects" and said it "can broker federal relationships".

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The trip cost $14,529 on travel and accommodation.

The air safety regulator told the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee of the Australian Parliament in November last year that it was still waiting to learn more.

"CASA has not yet received detailed operational information from Uber Air, or an application for operational approval, nor are there similar passenger-carrying operations being conducted internationally," it said.

"As such, it is too early to comment on the possible scope and impacts of Uber Air's Melbourne proposal."

That is not entirely true, because the authority met with Uber back in August 2018 and a working group of CASA, the Victorian Government and Uber has been meeting in Canberra and Melbourne since at least July last year, months before the question was asked.

"As agreed, there is great value in meeting in person on a regular basis (every two months) given the significant amount of work and the timeframes we are working towards," Simon Moore, general manager of air traffic policy at the Department of Infrastructure emailed the group in September.

'Hamburger to the rooftop' and 'lift direct to the airport'

Helicopter advocate Clem Newton-Brown, a former Liberal Party MP whose company Skyportz helps building owners prepare for a future of drone delivery and airborne taxis, wants to see more detail about the plans of Uber and the Victorian Government.

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"There's been a lot of hype around Uber Air and what they're proposing," he said.

"Realistically, it's going to be many years before we're going to see the Uber Air vision of aircraft landing on top of buildings."

Mr Newton-Brown said the new helicopters, called eVTOLs — which stands for electric vertical take-off and landing — will need to be substantially quieter for there to be community acceptance of the concept. But decisions are being made now to prepare for the long-term vision.

"If you're building a building that is going to last for 50, 100 years, what do you need in infrastructure in terms of drone deliveries and also passenger air taxis?" he said.

"It's very hard to predict at the moment. It could be a service which you would offer to your tenants — come and buy an apartment here because you can get your hamburger delivered to the rooftop where you can also get a lift direct to the airport."

Drone trial 'like living under a demented whipper-snipper'

The previously secret documents show Uber Air's ambition to be "a mass-market product that can serve both daily and casual commuters".

They also put inner-city residents on notice, with the air safety regulator expecting lots of landing zones on apartment buildings and car parks to reach the largest number of people. Or, in the company's jargon, "multi-modal Skyports in dense populous areas to maximise throughput".

Flights are expected to begin this year using existing helicopters between the city and airport.

The system will ramp up once electric helicopters — a concept pursued by companies including Boeing, Toyota and Hyundai — become commercially available. Makers say they will be quieter than existing helicopters.

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"Moving forward from 2023, Uber will work diligently to show that the service can be scaled safely, efficiently and with minimal disruption to the neighbourhoods it serves," the company's document stated.

Uber declined to be interviewed or answer questions.

Ms Stock, who sourced the documents, said the biggest concern was that there would be no oversight of the project in its entirety.

While individual heliports will require planning approval, the Uber Air scheme could fall between the cracks of state and federal rules.

"There could be a huge impact on people who live in the inner city in terms of noise, in terms of visual impact, I think it's a completely different city than the one we live in today," she said.

"What's especially concerning is it's not clear what the planning process is.

"People expect with a major road or a major transport project there are processes in place, like environmental assessments, that look at all these different elements and look at how to minimise them and manage them. It's unclear if that will exist for this proposal."

Those cracks have been exposed in Canberra, where the trial of a Google-backed drone delivery service infuriated residents and showed the weaknesses of the air safety regulator's powers.

"It was horrible … like living under a demented whipper-snipper flying over your head," Bonython Against Drones convenor Neville Sheather said.

"On a Saturday morning, you could get up to a hundred flights over the top of your head of drones delivering tacos and coffees and other necessities of life at a really loud volume."

The trial sparked huge debate in the capital, as successive authorities — including the ACT Government, CASA, air navigation service body Airservices Australia and the Environmental Protection Agency — refused to take responsibility for regulating the noise made by the drones or studying the privacy implications.

"There was no-one overall in charge of the whole thing!" Mr Sheather exclaimed in exasperation.

"Everyone said, 'Oh, we're not in charge'. CASA said, 'Oh, we're not in charge', the ACT Government said, 'Oh, we're not in charge', Aviation [Airservices Australia] said, 'Oh, we're not in charge', and we're saying, 'well there must be somebody responsible for the noise.'"

In a statement, Invest Victoria described concepts like Uber Air as an emerging industry to complement existing transport networks.

"As Urban Aerial Mobility starts to take shape in cities across the world, there is a strong recognition that community acceptance is critical to its success," the statement read.

"This is a new industry, which presents new challenges that require careful consideration.

"Any company entering this industry must work with the relevant regulators and with the Victorian community to proactively address these challenges."

Not released in the swathe of documents was information about the preparation and testing of the vehicles or landing sites.

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