Uber expands its helicopter service - for users who will spend R3 000 on a trip to the airport


The next time New Yorkers are stuck in traffic on the way to John F. Kennedy International Airport, they can honestly say, "Maybe we should’ve taken the chopper."

Uber is now offering its Uber Copter service in New York to all Uber riders, the company announced on Thursday.

Previously, only members of Uber’s top two tiers, Platinum and Diamond, could use the service, which began on July 9. The service is available to regular Uber users during weekday rush hours.

A one-way ride costs from $200 (R3 000) to $225 (R3 400) per person.  

"The focus in the near term is to open this up to all riders, to demonstrate this vision of seamless connection between cars and helicopters," says Eric Allison, head of Uber Elevate, the company’s flight business. 

Through the app, customers are able to schedule a journey as far as five days in advance, until space is full. As with Uber car rides, prices will fluctuate, based on demand. Two helicopters will be used, for now, to make the trips. 

How it works

The journey has three legs. First, an Uber car picks up riders and takes them to the Downtown Manhattan Heliport. For trips to JFK, Uber has limited pickups to locations below Houston Street, which the company says is designed to maximise customers’ time. The flight itself takes about eight minutes, followed by an Uber car ride from the helipad near Terminal 8 at JFK to a passenger’s designated terminal.

Trips can be booked via one request in the Uber app, instead of three separate ones, though customers will receive an emailed bill receipt for each leg.

Uber is using Bell 430 twin-engine helicopters operated by Newark-based company HeliFlite and has two pilots on every flight. There are six leather passenger seats for a maximum of eight people on board. 

They have Rolls-Royce 250-C40B turboshaft engines, are capable of speeds up to 250km/h, and cost about $6.2m (R94m) each.

The experience is not dissimilar from a normal plane ride, except much closer to the ground and near enough to recognise the buildings and neighborhoods you’re flying over. 

The three-step journey can take as little as 30 minutes, compared to by vehicle, which can take an hour or more, depending on traffic. Public transportation generally takes from 50 to 75 minutes.

Uber plans to expand its helicopter service to other cities as well, including Dallas, Los Angeles and Melbourne. The launch is scheduled for 2023, with testing beginning next year.

Michael Holtz, founder and chief executive officer of travel company SmartFlyer, said while space in the helicopters was limited, prices were likely to increase as demand increases. 

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