The economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in Uber scaling back some of its most high-tech programs. Last week, Uber announced it sold its autonomous vehicle united. Now, the company has announced it has also offloaded Uber Elevate, its air taxi operation.
Uber Elevate was announced two and a half years ago. At the time, Uber said a trip from San Francisco to San Jose would only take 15 minutes—a trip that typically took more than two hours to complete. There was a lot of excitement for the operation when it was first announced.
Now, Jody Aviation of California will take over Elevate. The complex deal involves an investment from Uber totaling $75 million. According to Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, the deal will deepen the partnership between the two companies.
As Uber pulls back from the air taxi business, some car manufacturers are ramping up their air mobility plans. According to NBC News, the rapid need for thousands of aircraft is possible if air taxi services become operational. Established car manufacturers would have an advantage in mass production.
One of the car manufacturers, Hyundai, said in October 2020 it would set up a separate unite to develop a lineup of airborne products aimed at services like Elevate. At the most recent Consumer Electronics Show, Hyundai showed off a full-size mock-up of a multirotor air taxi called the SA-1.
The other car manufacturer, Toyota, has backed Cartivator Resource Management, which has been planning to demonstrate single-seat flying cars at the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. According to Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda, “Air transportation has been a long-term goal for Toyota, and while we continue our work in the automobile business, this agreement sets our sights to the sky.”
Traditional aerospace companies, like Boeing and Airbus, are also planning on entering the air taxi space. Boeing’s NeXt division has been working on its program since an autonomous prototype staged a minute-long test flight two years ago. Airbus staged the first flight of its CityAirbus, a prototype vertical-takeoff-and-landing air taxi, in July.
While there is no set timeframe for when or if the general public will use air taxis, it will likely still be years. Prior to the sale of Elevate, Uber had hoped to be ready to begin pilot programs in Texas and Dubai, but it’s likely the programs will be delayed until at least 2023. While Toyota is looking at the same timeframe, Hyundai’s first model isn’t expected to be hauling passengers until 2028.