Aerial Ridesharing in 2021 and Beyond

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Aerial Ridesharing in 2021 and Beyond

Eighteen months ago, when Trends last explored the world of flying taxis and personal aviation vehicles, the climate for business in general and transportation, in particular, was very different.

At that time two industry visionaries seemed to be leading the way: Uber Elevate and Lilium. And to the Trends Editors, the strategic realities of this emerging industry were beginning to resemble the early world of personal computers where new technology and an innovative business model was about to create an explosive market opportunity. In that context, Uber Elevate is role reminded us of Microsoft’s role in creating the open DOS/Windows model by pulling together a broad coalition of partners to create hardware, infrastructure, and a standards framework. Meanwhile, Lilium seemed to be pursuing a closed model resembling that of the Macintosh, taking upon itself the design of aircraft, addressing regulatory challenges, and creating a network of vertiports.

As late as January of 2020, people were busily commuting to work in congested urban hubs. Highways in centers like New York, Dallas, and Los Angeles were bumper-to-bumper. And airlines, hotels, ridesharing services, and car rental companies were all generating record revenues. Then suddenly, more people started working from home, the exodus from traditional urban centers accelerated, and travel for business and pleasure nearly ground to a halt.

Rather than thinking about ways to commute faster, the focus turned to have a better and safer personal experience at home. As a result, the business case for aerial ridesharing seems far less clear than it did in mid-2019.

Consequently, the dynamics of the emerging industry are rapidly changing, and the changes are reflected in the changing role Uber is playing.

From 2016 through the opening days of 2020, Uber and its subsidiary Uber Elevate served as the principal cheerleaders for the emergence of Electric Vertical Take-Off & Landing (or eVTOL) vehicles as airborne taxis. By late 2019 it had selected eight eVTOL aircraft designs as candidates for participation in creating an airborne analog to its automobile-based ride-sharing service.

Uber began experimenting with flying taxis in 2016, and Uber Elevate had promised to launch services in Los Angeles, Dallas, and Melbourne in 2023. In the process, Uber worked with its commercial partners as well as the FAA and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency to come up with pilot certification standards, airframe standards, and airspace regulations.

But, as with so many other businesses, the COVID19 shock changed everything. With fewer people going fewer places, Uber has been forced to refocus on its core business and has promised investors it would turn profitable on the basis of adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (or Ebitda) by the end of 2021...

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