When Uber announced its intention to use Melbourne as a trial city for its fleet of flying Uber Air vehicles, everyone figured that the ridesharing service would start small. Maybe a handful of helicopters running a few show flights for the media. It turns out that Uber's ambition is a lot wilder.
Getting to Melbourne's airport from the city is a genuine pain point for just about every traveller. As much as many of us love Melbourne, the arrangement of its primary airport in proximity to the working, tourist and most of its living spaces is a real drag, and a huge time sink. That's why the news that Uber had selected Melbourne as a trial city for its flying fleet late last year drew so much attention.
As the ABC reports, Uber isn't taking half-measures when it comes to rolling out flying Ubers in Victoria's capital city.
Documents sourced by the ABC under Freedom Of Information (FOI) requests detail Uber's plans, which call for 1,000 helicopters making the return trip from the airport to the city, and – presuming the trial is a success – between other locations over time. They won't be strolling in a leisurely fashion out to the airport either.
"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]," the report noted.
Uber is a US company, so the use of imperial measurements makes sense there.
Uber isn't the source of the ABC's documents, which have instead come from the state's regulatory bodies; that's understandable as in order to get a flying fleet in the air Uber has to negotiate a whole raft of regulations and safety measures.
Melbourne Airport is a big place, so there's plenty of space to park a few helicopters out that way, but Uber's scheme also calls for a wide range of parking locations within Melbourne itself.
Or, to be more accurate, on top of Melbourne. The plan is that Melbourne's flying Ubers will use the tops of buildings and even carports as temporary helipads in order to pick up and drop off its flying customers.
That could be quite startling, really. Imagine parking your car to head to work or the shops, only to come back to discover a helicopter parked next to you. I'd certainly be checking my car for any suspicious scratches or dents afterwards, even though chasing the Uber down to swap insurance details would be a bit trickier.
Just like regular old boring wheels-based Uber, though, the plan isn't for Uber to buy or build out its own stock of helicopters. Instead, it plans to work as an intermediary between aircraft owners and potential passengers, picking up its fee in the middle.
That does mean you'd have to rely on each individual flying Uber owner keeping their aircraft in good condition. It's one thing to get into a slightly dusty Yaris for that quick jaunt across town, but I'm not sure I'd be quite so keen if my flying Uber turned up with any signs of damage to it at all.
Uber does plan to eventually use slightly quieter electric helicopters over time, but for now it'll be regular helicopters with the noise they bring, which is another hurdle it will have to cover, especially if it's going to be landing at sites all across Melbourne.