The next time you order a ride from Uber, the rapidly expanding ride-hailing service, you may be able to choose between a car and a helicopter.
The San Francisco-based company is partnering with the aerospace giant Airbus for a pilot project that will offer on-demand helicopter rides, according to Airbus officials. The service will be available for the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, offering festival patrons a choice between sitting in traffic or flying above it. The festival begins Jan. 21.
Uber has experimented with helicopter services in the past and at similar venues. This new deal arrives, however, just as Airbus is seeking new innovation for its slumping helicopter business.
“Its a pilot project, we’ll see where it goes – but it’s pretty exciting,” Airbus Chief Executive Tom Enders told The Wall Street Journal in an interview.
At the 2015 Paris Air Show, Airbus came out on top of rival Boeing in total orders, winning heavily with orders for their narrow-body planes, according to Forbes. But their helicopter business has been in decline since 2014.
In December, Mr. Enders said helicopter sales were down in 2014 and declined further in 2015, according to The Wall Street Journal. The decline may be the result of low commodity prices, which have recently resulted in sub-one dollar gas in parts of the US. Oil and gas companies have been a large market for commercial helicopters, according to Reuters.
In efforts to spur innovation, the company has recently opened up Airbus Ventures, a $150 million fund in Silicon Valley for startups related to aerospace and other key focus areas. It also appears the push for innovation has led the aerospace company to try the unconventional: partnering with Uber.
"The point is if you can push a button and can get a ride, then why not push a button and get a helicopter," Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said to students at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT).
This is not the first time Uber has expanded beyond cars. The company dabbled with a cash-only rickshaw service in India and with boats in Istanbul. Helicopters have also been offered periodically over the years and at select locations.
In 2014, Uber tested a helicopter service to East Hampton, New York, around the July 4th holiday. For the 2015 College Football Playoff Championship outside Dallas, a sky tour of the city was offered along with a drop-off at AT&T Stadium. Transportation to Coachella Valley was also offered later in 2015.
Uber’s list of locations where it has offered helicopters transportation around holiday and event seasons reads long. The prices for the services have ranged from hundreds of dollars to thousands.
The rationale behind offering the sporadic and seasonal helicopter services could be to test the waters in a possibly emerging market. Or it could also be Uber, a startup just six years ago in 2009, flexing after a new round of fundraising could value the company at more than $60 billion.
"Yeah, it's more for fun," Mr. Kalanick told Reuters.