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Exclusive: Airbus will challenge Uber Copter for U.S. air-taxi business in 2019

Exclusive: Airbus will challenge Uber Copter for U.S. air-taxi business in 2019
[Photo: courtesy of Airbus]

Update 6/24/19: Voom has launched helicopter service in the San Francisco Bay Area. Flights between five regional airports–San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Palo, Alto, and Hayward–are priced between $147 (for short, 7-minute flights) and $294 (for longer, 14-minute trips).

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Earlier this month, Uber announced new plans to expand from earth to sky, with on-demand shared helicopter shuttles between lower Manhattan and JFK airport, launching on July 9. Uber isn’t the first company to offer such services, and it’s about to get even more competition.

Airbus-owned Voom confirmed to Fast Company that it will expand its app-based, on-demand helicopter shuttle service from Latin America to the United States this fall. Voom joins not only Uber but also Blade, a five-year-old company that operates helicopters (and planes) in multiple cities for the U.S. market. (Airbus is also one of Blade’s biggest investors.) Meanwhile, startup Skyryse also aims for the helicopter air-taxi business, though it has not announced a timeline or locations for service.

Voom also confirmed plans to move into Asia in 2019, though it has not said which countries. CEO Clément Monnet says the company plans to be in 25 cities around the world by 2025, flying two million passengers per year.


Related: Should Uber Copter be banned after the NYC helicopter crash? Not so fast


Voom launched service in 2017 in traffic-choked Sao Paulo, Brazil, replacing one- to two-hour drives to or from the airport with 15-minute flights, now priced at the equivalent of $150. In 2018, it expanded to Mexico City, with 15-minute airport shuttles costing about $180.

Voom has not yet said which U.S. cities it will come to, nor what it will charge, other than saying it will be “competitive with ground alternatives.” Voom’s rivals may indicate the most-promising markets. In addition to New York City, Blade primarily operates in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s also launching a Mumbai service in September.

Like Uber and Blade, Voom says it intends to move to quieter, cleaner aircraft using technologies called eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) when such vehicles are ready and practical, which Monnet expects to happen within a decade. (And Uber’s eVTOL plans are much grander than just New York City shuttles.) Voom’s parent company, Airbus, is working on multiple eVTOL concepts, including an 8-rotor electric copter and a combo electric helicopter-plane design.

But 2019 is the year that traditional gas-powered helicopters are emerging as an interim air-taxi option. Blade now offers $195 service between Manhattan and all three New York City-area airports. Blade recently revealed to Fast Company that the service is profitable in its “core market” of the New York City area, which includes both airport shuttles and pricier flights to further locations like the Hamptons. Uber Copter flights will cost $200 to $225, based on demand pricing. Uber has not said if flights will be profitable (though the reliance on large craft with two pilots each makes that unlikely).

Like Blade, Voom also flies between urban locations aside from airports (within about 30 miles of city centers) in Sao Paulo and Mexico City, although Monnet says airport shuttles account for 70% of flights. Voom will not say if it’s profitable in either of its current cities or reveal its expectations for profitability in the United States.

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