By Tina Bellon
NEWYORK (Reuters) – Ride-hailing company Uber Technologies Inc <UBER.N> is taking to the air in New York City where users with a little cash to spare will soon be able to book helicopter flights to John F. Kennedy International airport through their apps.
The company announced its Uber Copter offer on Thursday, saying flights to and from Lower Manhattan will become available to all Uber users on Oct. 7. Uber made the feature available to its premium members in June.
The roughly eight-minute flight will cost between $200 and $225 per person and include ground transportation on either side of the trip. Passengers can bring along a small suitcase and have to watch a safety video before takeoff, similar to that on an airplane.
Uber’s prices roughly compare to those of competitors, including Blade, which offers a $195 trip to JFK from Manhattan. Those services do not offer ground transportation to the final destination, however.
The flights in Uber-branded helicopters are operated by HeliFlite Shares, a licensed New Jersey-based charter company.
For now, Uber rides shuttling passengers to the heliport in Manhattan are only available from the southern tip of the island to prevent customers from being stuck in traffic and cut down on travel time.
Uber says the service is intended to reduce travel times, but when Reuters tried Copter on Wednesday, a trip from its Midtown office to the airport took 70 minutes, including a subway ride downtown and two Uber rides to and from the heliport. That’s about the same time it would have taken by regular taxi in moderate traffic.
But Uber might gradually expand the Manhattan pick-up zone, said Eric Allison, head of Elevate, Uber’s aerial ride-hailing program.
“Helicopters are certainly expensive and it will be a premium product, but we think we’re actually able to offer a fairly accessible entry point with Uber Copter,” Allison said during an interview on Wednesday.
JFK is one of the country’s largest airports and car trips from congested Manhattan can take anywhere from one to two hours, while public transit takes between 50 and 75 minutes.
With concerns over congestion and vehicle emissions mounting, Uber hopes its NYC Copter project will pave the way for Uber Air, a futuristic taxi service that transports passengers in electric “vertical take-off and landing” aircraft.
The company plans to launch commercial electric airborne services in Los Angeles, Dallas and Australia’s Melbourne in 2023, with users hailing flights from the top of designated buildings.
It partnered with aircraft manufacturers Boeing Co <BA.N>, Bell Helicopter, Embraer SA <EMBR3.SA>, Mooney International Corp, Pipistrel and Karem Aircraft Inc to develop the vehicles, which are currently only available as a prototype.
(Reporting by Tina Bellon; Editing by Stephen Coates)