When Uber announced an aerial ride-hailing division, Uber Elevate, three years ago, the internet and news media buzzed with chatter of flying cars becoming a reality in the not-so-distant future.
While these aerial vehicles have yet to debut, the ride-hailing service is expanding into helicopter service, called Uber Copter, starting July 9 in New York City.
The new service, booked through Uber’s app, will take passengers between Lower Manhattan and Kennedy International Airport, an eight-minute flight.
“This is a trip that so many travelers make a day, and we see an opportunity to save them a huge amount of time on it,” said Eric Allison, the head of Uber Elevate.
Currently, that trip by car can take at least an hour, and in rush hour traffic, can last more than two hours. Other modes of transit, the subway and the Long Island Railroad, take between 50 and 75 minutes. Uber Copter promises to cut the total travel experience — including ground transportation — to as little as 30 minutes.
“Our plan is to eventually roll out Uber Copter to more Uber customers and to other cities, but we want to do it right,” Mr. Allison said. “The main goal of this initial venture is to understand the operations behind aerial vehicles.”
Uber Copter will be available only to users who are Platinum and Diamond members — the top two tiers — of the company’s loyalty program, Uber Rewards.
These customers can book Uber Copter on demand or up to five days in advance. The helicopters accommodate up to five people and will run Monday through Friday during the afternoon rush hour. Once seats are reserved, passengers will receive an email from Uber with a boarding pass.
Similar to Uber rides, Uber Copter will have dynamic pricing determined largely by demand.
Nikhil Goel, Uber Elevate’s head of product, said that the average ride will cost between $200 and $225 a person.
In Manhattan, the helicopters depart and land from a heliport near the Staten Island Ferry, while at Kennedy, they depart and land at a helipad near Terminal 8.
Passengers will be picked up or dropped off by car in Manhattan, and at Kennedy, they’ll be met at the helicopter tarmac by a car and driven directly to their terminal or picked up at the terminal and taken to the helicopter tarmac, Mr. Goel said.
The helicopters will be operated by HeliFlite, a Newark-based company with a fleet of twin-engine helicopters. Two pilots will be on every flight, and passengers will be shown a 90-second safety video before taking off.
Many helicopters, including those to be used by Uber Copter, have neither the space nor the weight capacity to accommodate large bags. Passengers will only be allowed to bring on one personal bag and one carry-on weighing no more than 40 pounds.
Uber isn’t the only company offering shared helicopter rides between airport and urban areas: In March, Blade Urban Air Mobility, a short-distance aviation company that operates in select cities on the East and West Coasts, debuted Blade Airport, a helicopter service that flies between three private Blade terminals in Manhattan and Kennedy, La Guardia Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport.
That service is available on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Sundays from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. and runs several times an hour, according to the company’s director of communications, Simon McLaren. Flights cost $195 per person one way, and include private car transfer between the helicopter and the terminal. Customers are allowed to fly only with carry-on bags, but for $85, the company will pick up and deliver checked luggage between the airport and any address in Manhattan.
The launches of Blade Air and Uber Copter come at a time when there is an active protest movement against helicopters in New York City because of the noise they cause and the fumes they generate. The group Stop the Chop argues that all commercial flights over the city should be banned.
Steve Wooster, the managing director for services and air operations at the luxury travel network Virtuoso, said that there’s no doubt that Uber Copter and Blade are time savers and relatively affordable.
“In rush hour, an Uber Black car could cost up to $200 to J.F.K., so these helicopters are competitively priced,” he said.
But on the other hand, they’re not exactly a bargain. “They’re likely to be popular with executives and super wealthy travelers,” Mr. Wooster said. “I don’t think they are services that a well-to-do family of four would use regularly. You’re looking at $800 to get either to or from the airport, and that’s a lot.”
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