By Rebecca Heilweil
Uber is launching its own helicopter service to transport commuters from John F. Kennedy airport to downtown Manhattan, a ride that is estimated to cost about $200, on July 9.
“Uber Copter offers the first real demonstration of the Elevate experience. We’ve built Uber Copter to provide us with insight and real-world experience as we continue to lay the foundation for Uber Air," said Eric Allison, the head of the company's division for aerial travel Uber Elevate, in a statement to Cheddar. "This is Uber’s first multi-modal option, integrating an 8-minute helicopter flight with an Uber trip on both ends with a single tap of a button."
The New York Times first reported the ride-hailing giant's new aerial travel option on Wednesday.
The news follows BLADE’s announcement last month that it would expand its helicopter service from Manhattan to JFK to include the two other New York-area airports: Newark Liberty International Airport and LaGuardia Airport. Similar to Uber’s prices, BLADE’s rides cost $195.
The pitch is simple: street traffic congestion in New York has grown unbearable, and the city hasn’t managed to make traveling to the airport through public transit reliable.
But traveling by helicopter ー for those who can afford the hefty price tag ー shrivels commuting time from an hour or more to just a few minutes in the air, along with a short car-ride from the airport terminal to a nearby helipad.
At its start, the new helicopter service from Uber ($UBER) will only be available to Diamond and Platinum members, which are part of the Uber Rewards customer loyalty program that the ride-share giant highlighted in its first earnings report since its initial public offering.
Helicopter rides will be available during the weekdays during afternoon rush hour, according to the New York Times. Riders will catch a helicopter, which seats five people, at either a heliport near the Staten Island Ferry in Manhattan or a helipad close to JFK’s Terminal 8.
HeliFlite, a helicopter charter service based in New Jersey, will operate the service.
The largest challenge for commuter helicopter businesses is pushing down the price tag of a ride. Helicopters must consider the weight of passenger luggage, fuel efficiency, optimizing ride schedules, and syncing ground transportation to the helicopter while managing their costs of offering service.
"Before BLADE, if you wanted to take a helicopter to JFK, you might send in a fax order form and mail a check to a company that would ー just for you ー scramble an aircraft from upstate New York somewhere, that would fly 20 minutes to pick you up in Manhattan, fly five minutes to the airport and fly 20 minutes back,” Will Heyburn, BLADE’s head of corporate development and business processes, told Cheddar on Wednesday. “So, you were paying for 40 minutes of flight time that you don’t need. And you’re likely getting a bigger aircraft that uses more fuel."
But commuter helicopter travel may not be long for this world.
Startups, as well as major aircraft manufacturers and Uber, partnered with Bell, are working on developing new aerial vehicles that are all electric, can vertically land and take off, and will travel within cities and to nearby areas.
Some companies anticipate these aerial taxi vehicles will be available as early as the mid-2020s.