The company’s history of clashing with regulators will not be repeated in the aviation space, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said this week.
(TNS) — With its history of clashing with regulators and its autonomous car fleet grounded over a pedestrian death, Uber might seem the least likely candidate to launch a flying taxi service.
But Uber Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi said Wednesday that he is “reasonably confident” demonstration flights will start in Dallas and Los Angeles in two years, with commercial service set to start in 2023.
When asked how Uber would inspire passenger confidence in a network of flying cars, Khosrowshahi — in an onstage conversation with Bloomberg journalist Brad Stone during the Uber Elevate conference in Los Angeles — said the company would have to show it had moved beyond the scandals that rocked Uber last year.
Those included charges of sexism and revelations that the company used software to evade local regulators. The controversies eventually led to the ouster of Uber co-founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick.
“If we keep demonstrating from the inside that we are a changed company, that while we want to be profitable and we want to go public, we have a group of people at our company that want to change the world for better, that want to make mobility affordable with the masses … that we will build trust,” said Khosrowshahi, who was hired last summer.
Rather than manufacturing flying vehicles itself, Uber has chosen to partner with five vehicle makers. The company — notorious for launching its ride-hailing operations without always complying with local regulations — is also working with NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration.
“Aviation is a different ballgame,” Khosrowshahi said. “We’ve got to play by the rules.”
Although the company’s autonomous vehicles group has partnered with some carmakers, Khosrowshahi said developing hardware and software kits together in-house for the robot cars is the right approach, at least initially. But the autonomous vehicles group ultimately could become like the flying cars group, he said.
Khosrowshahi said the National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the March fatal accident, in which an Uber robot car hit and killed a woman who was walking her bike across an Arizona highway. He said the autonomous fleet has been grounded as the company and outside experts conduct a “top to bottom” safety review.
“For us, it really brought home this idea that safety has to come first,” Khosrowshahi said.
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