An artist's impression shows how the flying Uber of the future could look. Picture: Uber Technologies.

San Francisco - Uber has said that it could be running a flying taxi service in four years.

Passengers using the smartphone app will be collected from pick-up points on the top of a tall office building, a multi-storey car park or a shopping centre.

And they will be able to beat gridlocked roads by flying in one of Uber’s electric planes at speeds of between 240km/h and 320km/h, the company said.

The planes could cover up to 100km on a single charge, with batteries boosted again within five minutes.

The service is not intended for the elite. The company hopes to offer its flying taxi service at a price only a third higher than the cost of a normal taxi.

For example, in the UK it could cost the equivalent of R800 to complete a 40km journey in an ordinary Uber taxi, but R1250 using UberAir.

A spokesman said UberAir will make its debut in the American cities of Los Angeles and Dallas in 2023, with global expansion planned in the years after that. It is hoping the taxis may fly in British skies in the next decade, but the UK debut will depend on successful launches in other locations first.

The electric planes, which will fly between 1000 and 2000 ft above ground, have become ‘a core need’ in cities where traffic-congested routes are at breaking point, according to Uber.

Pilots will fly up to four passengers through ‘virtual lanes’ after collecting them from the pick-up points. Once the project is completed, users could order and board one of the ‘flying cars’ in as little as five minutes.

The average flight will be 40km. Uber says that such a journey might take 69 minutes in a traditional taxi but 33 minutes using UberAir.

The flight would be 11 minutes with the rest of the time taken walking or taking a traditional taxi to and from the pick-up and drop-off point.

Uber is working with five companies on designs for its flying taxis and is still developing plans on how and if the vehicles would be able to fly in bad weather. The company has conceded that it may need to train a new workforce of pilots. Thomas Prevot, its director of airspace systems, said Uber will initially work with trained ex-commercial airline pilots. But he added: "As we build this out, we already have a pilot shortage, so we have to find ways to attract and train additional pilots.

"We hope that these vehicles can be flown more simply than helicopters and hopefully, over time, we could have a quicker training programme so that we can increase the pool of people."

Uber was locked in a court battle last summer over whether it was a ‘fit and proper’ private hire company and should be allowed to continue operating in London. It was put on a 15-month ‘probation period’ by Transport for London.

Daily Mail