With plans already in the pipe to lift its flying taxis into the air over Dallas and Los Angeles, Uber has now added Melbourne, Australia, to the list. The announcement marks the first pilot city outside the US for the forthcoming but highly speculative Uber Air service, with the ambitious company targeting test flights for next year.

There are plenty of big names making moves in the flying taxi business, with the likes of Boeing, Bell, Daimler and Aston Martin all dipping their toes in the water, along with a host of startups such as Volocopter and Lilium. The general premise is to offer aerial taxis that folks can hail through their smartphone for short trips across town, alleviating traffic at street level and cutting down on pollution in city centers.

Uber's take on this is called Uber Air and it first revealed its plans in 2016, imagining electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft that would transport people between stations called Skyports placed strategically around city centers. It has since announced plans to launch pilot programs in Dallas and LA, and be up and running in those cities by 2023.

It is now expanding this vision to include the Australian city of Melbourne. Announcing the move at its Uber Elevate Summit in Washington DC this week, the company describes Melbourne as the ideal place for an early Uber Air expansion.

"Australian governments have adopted a forward-looking approach to ride-sharing and future transport technology," says Susan Anderson, Regional General Manager for Uber in Australia, New Zealand and North Asia. "This, coupled with Melbourne's unique demographic and geospatial factors, and culture of innovation and technology, makes Melbourne the perfect third launch city for Uber Air."

Uber also used its annual transportation conference to offer a glimpse of the cabin its passengers could be traveling in. The concept was cooked up with Safran, a transport and propulsion company which also designed the drive systems for Bell's air taxi concept revealed earlier in the year. It says its solution for Uber is the result of passenger experience studies and centers on its objective of allowing quick travel around cities.

"Through the process with Uber, we had six full-scale mockups, with multiple iterations in each one, looking at the seats, liners, and window positioning," says Scott Savian, EVP of Design and Innovation Studio – Safran Cabin. "We don't want any excess weight or cost, but the mission also requires safety, a comfortable user experience, and a seamlessness of all the user interactions. So while the cabin may be minimal in some ways, it's absolutely purpose built to the mission."

There's a whole lot to play out in terms of regulation and validation of these technologies before we see flying taxis take flight, but Uber is outlining a very ambitious timeframe for its Uber Air service. It says test flights are due to start in 2020 in Melbourne, with commercial operations slated to kick off in 2023.

"The State Government of Victoria, Australia has been highly supportive, and we look forward to partnering with them to progress into this first international trial for Uber Air in Melbourne," says Anderson.

Sources: Uber, Safran

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