Computer generated image shows the flying taxi Uber hopes to start using for demonstration flights in 2020 and deploy for ride-sharing by 2028. Picture: Uber via AP

Lisbon, Portugal - Uber says it will make flying taxis a reality in three years, and its smartphone app can then be used to book a ride on the small, helicopter-like vehicles, flying between ‘sky ports’.

Chief product officer Jeff Holden said on Thursday at the Web Summit technology conference it was working with Nasa and aviation companies on ‘air taxis’ and planning routes for the service, which will launch in Los Angeles.

The electric aircraft will carry four passengers and travel at 320km/h, he said, which would cut a 40 kilometre journey, roughly the distance from central London to Luton, to a few minutes.

Holden likened the taxis to the flying cars seen in the 1982 film Blade Runner, set in a dystopian version of LA in 2019.

"Blade Runner was only one year off," he added.

He said Uber aims to make the transport system affordable and commonly-used before the 2028 LA Olympics, and that Uber chose the city because it is the most congested in the world. Holden said the vehicles would let people "fly over LA traffic".

He added: "We want to make this less expensive than driving your own car. These all-electric bad boys fly at 240 to 400km/h. You can imagine what this does to commutes. A journey that takes you an hour or an hour and a half becomes a few minutes – that’s pretty exciting.

"We have 65million monthly users who would be ready to push a button and order a flight, today." Holden said it would not "just be a luxury for the rich", adding: "We would not want to build this if it wasn’t for everyone; wiith Nasa’s co-operation we will be able to introduce this very quickly."

Uber has signed a contract with Nasa allowing it to operate in low-altitude airspace.

Holden said the taxis would have pilots to start with but could later become driverless. The scheme in LA will start with about four "sky ports", such as helipads.