In 2016, Uber published a report on the future of urban, short-distance air travel that said “helicopters are too noisy, inefficient, polluting, and expensive for mass-scale use.” Three years later, Uber has become more willing to put up with those flaws. In this case, Uber is launching a helicopter service in New York that will offer 8-minute, one-way flights from Lower Manhattan to JFK Airport. It’s expensive—about $200 to $225 per person
Uber told the Times it’s doing this “to understand the operations behind aerial vehicles.” The company has been partnering with startups and aircraft manufacturers to research and design flying vehicles that run more quietly and efficiently on electric motors. Running regular helicopters could be a means to that end.
But one issue Uber should have considered more carefully is what offering this mode of transport says about its values as a company. It has been vocal about trying to champion more sustainable urban mobility, like bikes and scooters. This can be seen as ” exquisite convenience for the privileged without considering the needs or unintended consequences for everyone else,“ as one transportation expert told me in a March story on the topic.