AERIAL RIDESHARE – IS THE CONVENIENCE WORTH IT?
In January, Uber announced that it is “Entering the Next Phase” of its aerial rideshare project. In short, Uber is moving towards the use of flying cars. More importantly, Uber reports that the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) is on board. The current phase called Elevate is all about the preparation of cities for supporting electrical vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (“eVTOL”). These aircraft, which are similar to the ones we have seen in the blockbuster movie Avatar, are expected to take off from designated operation zones to fly all over the city as a taxi service or rideshare program. Uber Air is slated to launch in Los Angeles, Dallas, and Melbourne, Australia in 2023.
In the wake of the helicopter tragic crash involving Kobe Bryant, we find that crashes involving aircraft, even ones flying close to the ground, have far worse implications than the average motor vehicle crash. While the National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”) has not completed its investigation releasing the cause of the Bryant crash, we know that there was thick fog, there could have been potential pilot error, the helicopter may not have been equipped with a Terrain Awareness and Warning System (“TAWS”) and it could have been mechanical error. Whatever cause is found, the fact remains that nine people died in that crash.
The pilot, Ara Zobayan, who was at the helm of the helicopter in the Bryant crash, was experienced and properly credentialed. It was reported that he had over 8,200 hours of flying experience and he was flying for Bryant for several years as his personal helicopter pilot. Moreover, he was rated to fly helicopters under both visual flight rules and instrument flight rules. In other words, Zobayan was qualified to fly a helicopter in fog or night conditions. Given his experience, one would expect that he could avoid a crash even in foggy conditions. However, despite his experience and qualifications, a tragic crash occurred.
Like many children growing up in the 1980s watching reruns of the Jetsons, I feel the prospect of flying cars or eVTOLs sounds amazing and futuristic. However, we must realize that aviation crashes are more often fatal than automobile crashes. An automobile Uber driver cannot just jump into an eVTOL for a stroll across town carrying paying passengers. You can expect that the FAA will have strict guidelines for training and retraining of these pilots. Further, even an eVTOL pilot that is highly trained, will likely have a crash. We see this happen all the time. The question is, are we willing to accept those serious injuries or deaths as a byproduct of not having to wait in L.A. traffic? Undoubtedly, this was the risk that Kobe Bryant considered and that we will have to consider as this new era in aviation unfolds.
This blog is written by Partner Chad Hastings.