eVTOL, Flying Taxis and Uber Air

It’s difficult to know if a practical Uber style flying taxi service is about to arrive in Melbourne.

Thanks to the ABC and a FOI request it has been revealed Uber has been secretly engaged in getting agreements in place to commence services in Melbourne.

Whether the need for such a service justifies the community impacts likely no one knows. According to the ABC the principle of Commercial in Confidence has been used to good effect to shield the public from knowing anything. It is reported Uber has been supported by the Victorian Govt and formally engaged with CASA.

Two observations in the report that may be reasonable cause for consumer alarm.

On Ubers attitude towards the community.

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.”

The community may have little opportunity for regulatory input or ability to control the outcomes.

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.

Many of us might welcome a future free of roads. Should we also be concerned about the potential for other impacts?

  • On privacy,
  • From noise,
  • Aerial Safety,
  • Loss of amenity/enjoyment of private property.
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On one side we have worries about

As a certificated pilot the safety aspect boggles my mind, but regardless on the other side is Uber and

Unless something changed since I started this post, one side is us and the other a business. Government will thus summarily reject our worries and enthusiastically buy the snake oil put in front of them. Any commitment from the business side will come with no concrete warranties. Government always have and probably always will. One can only wonder how many ‘NBN’s’ will be in our future and whether our lucky country luck can hold forever.

Imagine looking up with scores if not hundreds of large drone-like whirring machines all vying for their chosen routes, all at the same low altitude. Some day the futuristic ‘flying car’ concept will come to pass, but not as a free for all, and I doubt it could if dependent on current technology.

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I think a quote from Rod Chairman of the ACCC (on the price of gas) is relevant here too:

"Often self-interest dominates what companies tell governments," Mr Sims said.

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Could it be a viable business? My first thought was the competition for city roof space. It used to be the preserve of air-conditioning plant, cooling towers, solar panels etc. Now the push is towards turning it into gardens to improve the environment and opening it up for recreation, so office staff can stretch their legs in a pleasing green oasis. Uber want to flatten it and turn it into heliports.

Ultimately Uber want unmanned vehicles, doing away with the Uber drone pilot. And I wonder what licence the Uber pilot needs? There are few helicopter pilots looking for a low paid casual job these days, especially given the cost of training to a Commercial Helicopter Licence. Uber may be big enough to move CASA and the Federal Govt to have legislation for their vision, but I can see existing air charter organisations getting rightly angry if Uber is allowed a lower standard - eg a private pilot, in a privately owned aircraft, allowed to take paying passengers, which is what happens in Uber cars.

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Are there 1,000 qualified helicopter pilots around Melbourne available to pilot these things? Or many more than 1,000, if there’s to be separate morning and evening shifts.

Or is Uber planning ahead for when they feel ready to test their autonomous piloting software above the heads of Melbourne residents?

“Choppers” indeed :frowning_face:

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Yes, and falling debris!

I suspect there may be only limited piloted flights before they go full drone.
Fortunately I live a very long way from where all this noise and impacts will be occuring :wink:

On a similar note to Uber however, is Elon Musk - destroyer of the night sky, with his proposed tens of thousands of internet satellites blotting out the universe for astronomers (my occupation for many years, and hobby for much longer).

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I think you have hit the nail on the head in relation to the background on the Uber media release…it may be more about stimulating share price and maintainer their backer’s support rather than on reality. Many ‘high tech’ gig economy US companies make business forecasts which sit in the dream category. I suspect that in the short to medium term, this ‘news’ is no different. I can’t see it happening in my or my children’s lifetime.

The other consideration is cost…helicopter travel is very expensive. Uber does have one route they fly, JFK airport to Manhattan…an 8 minute flight for USD200+ per person (more than AUD300 based on 28/1/2020 forex rates). The cost for a small family to go to a restaurant in the CBD, on a relatively short flight, would be cost prohibitive for almost all families. As they say,

giphy

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Hi folks, great discussion.
There is a longer list of potential issues on this change.org petition https://www.change.org/p/victorian-government-melbournians-to-have-a-say-on-uber-air-proposal

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At least it will take peoples attention away from the road toll and pandemics !! :rofl:

I guess that’s why Mr Sims gets paid the big bucks - no peasant would ever think of that ! :wink:

Likewise … and happy about it !

Isn’t it interesting how ‘speed kills’ on the ground, but speed and altitude apparently have no issue :wink: (settle … ! :wink: )

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The Verge grabbed the same thought and added a dose of realism. Aviation fuel provides 40+ times the energy density by weight of a current technology Tesla vehicle battery.


Not quite a recent assessment but near enough to suggest 2030 for hybrid fixed wing flight.

Plenty of time for two other thoughts on practical everyday passenger carrying electric flight and eVTOL to be proven.

Ambition @phb? :wink: :rofl:

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I mean electric does win out here if they’re land based counterparts are any example to go by. Maintenance frequency and just general cost will be reduced. If a Pilot can remotely monitor a small fleet say (mostly ‘be in control’ for landing/take off); the expensive meatbag component is suddenly reduced too.

The likes of Rolls Royce have been investing heavily in the idea of hybrid engines for commercial flights. (its a little different to how hybrid cars work though if memory serves)

most of the power is needed only for take of and landing so being able to ‘boost’ using batteries and electric has folk quite excited. It also helps greatly to reduce the noise which is a major issue world wide (restricted landing/takeoff times etc).

I think there are already pure battery small planes too (typically used for training 1-2 hr’s of flight and very cheap to run in comparison)

If nothing else the wider aviation industry has lobbying power; and they have spent huge amounts of $$ on safety to keep the image and perception of air travel as being safe.

Accidents (until I guess the MAXX issue just recently) were generally once of bespoke events. Taking a cab to the airport is orders of magnitude more dangerous than the air travel itself etc.

Won’t take but a couple of those things to have close calls or a death or two for the fleet to be grounded globally!

Here’s a couple of hits from this very forum:


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If say they are cheaper based on a unit of energy per person per kilometre, the challenge is recharging times and also longevity of battery capacity.

Unlike a plane where wind flow (velocity) over the wing to create lift, a helicopter requires rotors to gain lift. More energy is then required for propulsion and to ‘fight’ winds and weather. Such is highly energy intensive and will still be very, very expensive compared to other options, such as those which can traverse the land.

It is very much the thing of dreams…or toys of the ultra-wealthy.

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Flying car race proposed for Coober Pedy.

Move over Jetsons. The real flying cars are coming.

What a buzz!
With the noisy whirr of 100 beehives, SkyDrive’s pilot roared the eight motors to life and lifted off, slowly turning the car from side to side and flying for a few minutes.

If it takes off flys and lands like a helicopter and requires a pilot, hard to say if it’s really a car. It’s just another aircraft.

The report did consider the complications of installing traffic lights and stop signs in the sky. But will birds hold at the intersections waiting for the ‘fly- don’t fly’ sign to change. We’ll likely need a new term for road kill, oops there already is one. It’s called ‘bird strike’, just ask ‘Sully’ (Chesley Sullenberger).

1955 and William Cobb demonstrated the World’s first solar powered vehicle. 65 years later we are one step closer to a solar powered car. Check back in another 65years for progress on the flying car.


Or is it a battery electric vehicle with built in solar recharging? If only PV cells were 90% efficient at converting sunlight to electric charge.

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Not part of my vision for the future, unless they are
A) silent in operation
B) ensure zero bird strikes

For all the good things promised they never mention either of these outcomes, or the solutions.

One not so great solution is a future where as connected humans we have permanently implanted ear buds and a HUD visor. Built in noise cancelling will dull the roar of the overhead traffic, and imitate the calls of the missing wildlife.

Shouldn’t we be requiring a full EIS and community review before any approval? Unfortunately that’s not part of CASA’s remit.

I greatly fear this will progress as has the Gig Economy, where the absence of regulation is seen as opportunity. Until it’s too late and Governments look to play catch up. One outcome might be dedicated flight corridors. Ones that avoid Point Piper and St Kilda but are happy to route over lesser burbs.

The promoters and supports might enjoy the challenge and be happy to spruce the business opportunities. It’s remiss if they choose to ignore the other realities. Change has consequences, good and bad.

P.S.
Is it really an efficient use of energy, or should we look to a more grounded and fibre connected future to reduce our carbon footprints.

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Ummm … It’s a racing vehicle. Are you saying that a Formula 1 race car is silent? I’ve hit and killed birds in my car. Does that mean that I shouldn’t drive?

You’re saying that similar issues have been solved for conventional transport?

The article goes much further than to simply promote the race.

Pearson said he hoped the race series, named Airspeeder EXA, would improve the safety of the technology and “accelerate clean air mobility for our cities”.
“It’s not just racing for racing’s sake,” he said.

Rather pointedly one view has already decreed

“In the near future, whether we like it or not, for people who are not afraid it’s possible that we will be flying to work instead of driving to work,” said Mihaita,

I guess that says it all.

First hand.
We’ve had commercial drones fly over our house while photographing a neighbours for real estate purposes. The racket exceeds that of the rescue chopper landing in the playing fields after rescuing another mistaken soul from one of the Glass House Mountains. I can only equate the more capable passenger versions to be even more noisy with their high speed props.

Would you accept that level of noise as thousands an hour buzz over your home on the way to a long weekend or Amazon drop off? Or should they do so without disturbing the sounds of relative silence?

It would be wonderful to know those keen for an air borne transport future, also promise a silent solution.

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