Transportation

Uber, Bell Helicopter Are Serious About Their Texas-Based ‘Flying Car’ Service

Officials from both companies say they plan to have the Fort Worth-based service up and running by 2023.

by Gordon Dickson, Fort Worth Star-Telegram / February 21, 2018

(TNS) Uber and Fort Worth-based Bell Helicopter are working to launch an air taxi service in Dallas-Fort Worth.

And before you dismiss the idea as pie in the sky, it's important to note that officials from both companies say they're aiming to get it up and running by 2023.

"We expect test flights by 2020, and we anticipate commercial operation by 2023," Stan Swainitek, Uber's head of operations for aviation programs, told about 650 attendees last week at Tarrant County Commissioner Gary Fickes' annual transportation summit in Hurst.

The service would use battery-powered helicopters that take off and land vertically (like a tilt-rotor helicopter, but smaller and quieter) that would be developed and manufactured by Bell. It would amount to a whole new business segment for the company, which is better known for its large-scale production of military and civilian helicopters.

Initially, the air taxi service, which has a working title of Uber Elevate, would operate from two "vertiports," which could be on flat land or the rooftop of a multistory building. One vertiport would be at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and the other would be at Frisco Station, near the Dallas Cowboys' new headquarters, The Star at Frisco.

Other vertiports would be added in future years at strategic locations in Fort Worth, Arlington and Dallas. Hillwood, the company that developed Fort Worth's AllianceTexas development, would provide the station locations and other ground infrastructure.

The idea would be for North Texans to use other forms of ride-sharing or ride-hailing services such as Uber or Lyft for ground transportation from the vertiports to their final destination.

For Bell, air taxis would be a new niche. (The company, while working with Uber on the Uber Elevate project, also has its own working title for flying taxis -- Bell Air.)

"Bell has plenty of customers on the upper end of the economic scale, but it's time to bring a better air-mobility solution to a different set of folks, and the way you do that is to bring the costs down," Scott Drennan, Bell's director of innovation, told the summit crowd.

The Federal Aviation Administration is ready to work with Uber and Bell to develop such a system, said Al Brunner, FAA safety inspector. The project would require the federal agency to take a fresh look at how airspace just a few hundred feet off the ground is regulated.

©2018 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.