A rendering of a landing/launching area for Uber’s proposed Elevate network to transport people and deliver items via electric vertical lift aircraft. Uber
A rendering of a landing/launching area for Uber’s proposed Elevate network to transport people and deliver items via electric vertical lift aircraft. Uber

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Uber, Bell look to the skies for next step in ride-hailing

April 25, 2017 11:05 AM

UPDATED April 25, 2017 08:03 PM

Sick of getting stuck in Metroplex traffic? Uber wants to create a way for commuters to fly over it.

The company announced plans Tuesday to develop a network of aircraft, working with manufacturers including Fort Worth’s Bell Helicopter, to provide on-demand air transportation in large urban areas. Dallas-Fort Worth would be the test market for the concept, with Uber hoping to launch its first network here by 2020.

“Imagine one day you’re using your everyday Uber [app], you see a new option for air,” said Jeff Holden, chief product officer at Uber. “You literally push a button and get a flight.”

The car-for-hire company discussed its vision for urban air service at the Uber Elevate Summit in Dallas. With its Uber Elevate network, Uber plans a network of electric-powered aircraft and skyports that could provide transportation and delivery services in cities.

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Hillwood Properties, the developer of AllianceTexas, is partnering with Uber to build the vertical skyports, called vertiports, with plans to develop two to five ports within the year.

Imagine landing at DFW airport and flying to Frisco in just a few minutes.

Jeff Holden, Uber chief product officer

The first vertiports will be located at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and in Frisco, said Hillwood Chief Executive Ross Perot Jr. Eventually, the company would like to build vertiports at Victory Park in Dallas, near AT&T Stadium and Globe Life Park in Arlington, and at the old Tandy heliport on the Trinity River in downtown Fort Worth.

“The backstage will be AllianceTexas,” Perot said of Hillwood’s industrial airport complex in north Fort Worth. “This is where we can do manufacturing. … We have lots of pilot training at Alliance.”

With military pilots stationed in Fort Worth and commercial pilots at American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, Perot believes the Metroplex is a great place to test Uber Elevate and find pilots to fly the aircraft.

“All of them could be flying part-time for Uber as we launch this project,” Perot said, noting that as a helicopter pilot, he would love to fly one of the new electric aircraft.

Perot said he is talking with Uber’s Elevate manufacturing partners about building aircraft that are used for the electric air taxi network at Alliance.

Fort Worth-based Bell is working on propulsion technology to build electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft that are quieter than the usual helicopter.

“It’s not going to happen right away, tomorrow, but the technology is definitely there,” said Bell Chief Executive Mitch Snyder in an interview this week.

Bell Helicopter hints at new electric aircraft

At the Uber Elevate summit, Bell Helicopter only gave hint of what its prototype electric aircraft will look like with this video. (April 25, 2017) Video courtesy of Bell Helicopter.

Andrea Ahles aahles@star-telegram.com

“We definitely believe the hybrid electric is something we could go make and fly right now,” Snyder said. “But I think full electric, to give it the range and everything you want out of it, is not quite there.”

Uber also has agreements with Embraer, Aurora Flight Sciences, Pipistrel and Mooney International Corp. to develop possible electric aircraft for the network. It is also looking to test a network in Dubai.

The first electric aircraft would be piloted, but eventually with fly-by-wire systems, the aircraft could be self-piloted, Holden said.

“Imagine landing at DFW Airport and flying to Frisco in just a few minutes,” Holden said.

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @Sky_Talk