Hyundai, Uber Partner On Air Taxis


Hyundai and Uber announced a partnership aimed at developing air taxis for a “future aerial ride share network” at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Monday. As part of the announcement, the companies unveiled the Hyundai S-A1 Personal Air Vehicle (PAV) electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft concept. According to Hyundai, it will “produce and deploy” the S-A1 while Uber provides airspace support services, connections to ground transportation and customer interfaces. “Hyundai is our first vehicle partner with experience of manufacturing passenger cars on a global scale,” said Uber’s Eric Allison. “We believe Hyundai has the potential to build Uber Air vehicles at rates unseen in the current aerospace industry, producing high quality, reliable aircraft at high volumes to drive down passenger costs per trip.”

The four-passenger S-A1 is designed to fly at altitudes between 1,000 and 2,000 feet AGL. It is expected to have a range of about 60 miles (100 km/54 NM), cruise speed of up to 180 MPH (290 kph/156 knots), and recharging time of around five to seven minutes. Hyundai says it intends for the aircraft to be piloted initially, but eventually operate autonomously.

Kate O'Connor
Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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  1. Recharge time of five to seven minutes !!! You’d be hard pressed to pour petrol into this thing in that time. Have these people been spending too much time in Colorado? Next thing ya know, they’ll be claiming you can recharge it from any USB port for range extension.

  2. Optionally-piloted quad electric tilt-rotor? I’m guessing none of these people have been around helicopters (or “powered lift”) air vehicles if they think this will be the way of the future then. There may eventually be a niche market for these things, but only in rural sparsely-populated areas. Certainly not in a city environment. This is just a solution looking for a problem.

  3. Didn’t I say, just last week, that “they should get Hyundai to build them in Alabama?”

    The photo shows what appears to be a 6-door, 6-seat vehicle. Basically, a flying Santa Fe. Larry’s right – it takes me almost 5 minutes to pump 15 gallons into my own Hyundai Santa Fe.

    With all of those seats, where would they locate the required 12 cubic yards of batteries? 😉

    The only conclusion that’s consistent with what’s in the story (and with reality), is this: it’s NOT a battery/electric design; it’s a turbine/electric hybrid.

    Now, compare and contrast this vaporware with the tilt-rotor that just flew last week. Half of the speed; a quarter of the range; a tenth of the cost?

    If Hyundai partners with DJI, we’ll know that they’re serious about this.

    Fascinating. (Irresistible homage to the newly -created SPOC.)

  4. In spite of all their flowery talk about the plane’s performance and Hyundai’s mass production capabilities with automobiles, the whole thing still has to get past the FAA. In its current state, they would be lucky to have a design approved by 2030. Unless, of course, they plan to design and build it outside the U.S. Even then, they could lose much of their potential market in American cities until the Feds wave their stamp of approval.

    Also, I’m with the rest of you; I would love to see them charge a battery – any battery – in five minutes without it literally exploding. Just ask Boeing about how easy it is to fast charge lithium batteries.

    • There COULD be some inaccurate or incomplete or exuberant reporting here, John?

      At some point in the past, it was reported that a Pipistrel full electric airplane might have a quick change battery pack capability. IF that were the case, it might be possible to change out a battery pack fairly quickly. There is NO way anyone can convince me that it’s possible in 2020 to recharge a mighty battery in five minutes! That said, it wouldn’t be the equivalent of four D-cells and might take four men and a boy to do? Still, there are SO many variables involved in taking what SOME entities view as the next greatest idea after sliced bread from concept to flight test and verification to initial fielding and — finally — blessing by our ‘all-knowing’ FAA. Once you start common carriage … “stuff” gets serious fast.

      For myself, why they think a machine like this can be cost efficient or is needed on a mass productin scale befuddles me. People are willing to mail themselves in aluminum tubes crammed like sardines to save a buck these days. And these people think there are enough “heavy hitters” around to make a company using such a machine solvent … give us all a break please. If I climb into an airliner wanting to go somewhere, I want to GO somewhere. These things will NEVER be allowed to land just anywhere … you’ll have to drive to the point where they depart/arrive from and then switch carriages. Saving a few moments time in return for serious $$$ isn’t going to be something John Q. Public wants to accept.

  5. “We believe Hyundai has the potential to build Uber Air vehicles at rates unseen in the current aerospace industry, producing high quality, reliable aircraft at high volumes to drive down passenger costs per trip.”

    Our aerospace industry can build as many aircraft it wants. Boeing builds 40+ Max 737 per month and that does not include other models. Lockheed-Martin can do likewise. During WWII Ford, GM, Studebaker, Chrysler, Kaiser, Aeronca, Piper, North American, etc, ramped up to 50,000+ very complex, large (even by today’s standards) airplanes a year. When there was a demand, Cessna built 18,000 per year in 1978. When you are SELLING 500,000+ Sante Fe’s per year in the US alone, sure your production costs go down, profitability goes up.

    During WWII, with the resulting very high patriotic motivation and huge financial rewards, GM, Ford, Studebaker, etc went through a steep learning curve and several years to ramp up, including building of the square footage factory requirements to assemble, park, and test fly aircraft. These dimensional requirements will not change much to build a VTOL the size somewhere between a Blackhawk and an Osprey. And this does not include any of the current FAA certification, inspection, and approval of production requirements. When looking at production numbers, automotive license built airplanes was fairly equal to the production capability of the OEM aircraft manufacturers. It was spread out among many manufacturers some with automotive experience some with only aircraft experience. Ford pumped out a bunch of airplanes at Willow Run because they had the square footage and manpower to do so more than Consolidated. But man hour requirements to build them at the parent plant or at a license build alternative was pretty equal.

    Hyundai builds busses, trailers, boats/ships, cars, etc…and bunch more high volume consumer stuff. But has never built and certified an airplane. Plus, they have never gone through the FAA production certification process either.

    But the single-most barrier in all of this is enough CUSTOMERS to SELL this very labor intensive VTOL TO with the very comparative low production numbers that will not offer any significant cost savings because lost economy of scale. There is no need for 500,000 Hyundai VTOLs. There is no infrastructure for 100 Hyundai VTOLS on the entire planet.

    And with a very low range, low payload, the only routes these could be possibly used would be very small and suddenly very crowded with Blackhawk/Osprey sized aerial machinery, of which airspace would be dangerous to be in, adding more to urban mobility crisis, not solving it. We would just move the urban transportation traffic jam to the sky. Then throw in commercial drone operations in between all of this.

    Airplanes, no matter how much money you throw at them, no matter how many rich people will want to pay exorbitant amounts of transportation costs for the perceived convenience of going directly from point A to B, is not an efficient way to move large amounts of people, especially at 4-6 people at a time. Yes, we can transport millions daily via jumbo airliners. But just imagine the aerial chaos, if we simply doubled that capacity in the next ten years. And that means aircraft, VTOL or otherwise, that can carry 150-600 people apiece.

    No, VTOL’s the size of Blackhawks/Ospreys will not improve nor mitigate urban transportation issues. Instead, they will create an aerial version of rush hour making a human powered rickshaw a consumer delight. Until we can design, build, certify, and manufacture a VTOL the size, weight, cost, useful load, reliability, with a VTOL infrastructure in place, and dimensional foot print of a current Hyundai Santa Fe, there is no economical, climate improving aerial conveyance that can be manufactured, sold, distributed, and maintained that will provide the economy of scale and passenger carrying requirements cars/trucks, buses, trains, and ships offer for mass transportation.

    Flying is and always will be different than any other way of getting around. Unless an anti-gravity machine, impervious to a constant moving earth atmosphere and weather, is conceived and developed, flying will not be an efficient way for urban mass transportation. There are certain amounts of aerodynamic physics required to lift 4 to 6 people- 100-200 people – 600+ people into the air. Until that reality can be overcome outside of current aerodynamics, outside of current known physics, adding more machines to the sky, especially those with VTOL performance whose cruising altitude is only 1,000-2,000ft, as an urban mobility solution is simply fantasy.

    Mooney should be talking to Hyundai. For protection of it’s shareholders, Hyundai should be talking to Mooney. Both could learn from each other. Mooney is closed because unless they can sell more than 30 airplanes a year, there is no economy of scale. Hyundai would learn that the reason for Mooney’s closure is there are not enough customers willing to spend $750,000 to one million dollars for a 2-4 place efficient people mover. And I am sure, a Hyundai VTOL will cost more than a Mooney. I doubt they will sell any more VTOLs even to Uber than Mooney sells airplanes per year. No money in that venture. Finally, no matter how good, how fantasmalistic any new aviation product is, ya still got to get it certified. And that takes years and decades. Hyundai needs to talk to Epic as well.

    • I know Uber. They’re OCD nuts. They hapilly will place orders for BILLIONS of dollars worth of vehicles.

      That doesn’t mean that Uber has ANY skill or experience when it comes to:
      Operating or

      ANY kind of a Hyundai – Santa Fe or otherwise. But that will not stop them. From trying.

      Hubris, ignorance, and OPM is a volatile combination. Just look at our government.

      • How to Make a Million Dollars in Aviation … Start with Five Million Dollars of ‘OPM.’

        Funny … I was thinking that Hyundai / Uber ought to talk to Mooney and Jim beat me to it.

      • Designing and getting a new clean sheet aircraft approved is crazy expensive. Doing it with unproven electric propulsion is crazy squared. Then getting it approved for a yet unproven autonomous mode is crazy expensive squared and then squared again.

        Just use a well proven off the shelf helicopter. Done.

  6. Have they figured the costs based on the wild fantasy that the 6 passengers may each want to be dropped off at different destinations? Can they afford to run with any empty seats?

  7. Just thinking about the basic math in this transportation debacle, a 60 mile range with a 180MPH cruise speed means covering the ground at 3 miles per minute which averages 20 minutes of total flight time with an undetermined or not released reserve. Then it is recharge time.

    I am not a helo pilot, but would think the vertical take-off and landing phase would be at max power. From take-off to transition to cruise would probably take at least 2 minutes, similar for landing phase under ideal conditions. That leaves 16 minutes of flight time to accommodate the passengers if they were all going to the same destination followed with a required recharge time of 5-7 minutes. That is not a lot of available flight time in case any part of the flight has to change. What would be the FAA required power reserve be for a total of 20 minutes of available flying time?

    However, if they all went to different destinations, all of those destinations would have to be within a total 60 mile range minus the 4+ minutes of vertical transition to cruise back to vertical phase for each take-off/landing. The only one who would benefit would be the first passenger as the last one would have to endure the multiple flights plus multiple charging times to get to his/hers destination.

    Uber Pool? can only work within a known pool of vehicles. Since there is no VTOL pool, the only way Uber Pool can work is creating and having a VTOL pool already in place to serve passengers whose destinations are all different. I guess this kind of math only works under the OPM paradigm.

  8. Uber Pool is NOT about a pool of vehicles. It is about an overlay of trips that have common travel legs.

    Consider a trip from Bradley to Hartford to Meriden to New Haven. It’s possible/likely that there’s no one passenger who will ride from Bradley to New Haven. Yet there’s passenger overlap that links all four legs together into one “Pool” trip. Somebody boards at the beginning, and somebody else boards along the way, and gets off at the end.

    First-hand knowledge.

  9. Yars,
    Thanks for the clarification. I have yet to try Uber. Still have reservations about climbing into a stranger’s personal car. I spent almost 30 years as a used car manager and stopped counting after 40,000+ appraisals. Very few were well kept or maintained. Average cars, by the year 2000 when I went full time into aviation, are science projects when traded in. That knowledge sort of takes away my enthusiasm for climbing in most others cars. “Pooling” several legs together into one trip makes sense business. For me it would just multiply my less than pleasant past experiences in the average owners vehicles. One might think the well heeled upscale Mercedes, BMW, or Lexus owners were significantly different. Not so. I can only imagine an Uber tilt-rotor after a year’s worth of use. An aerial science project.

  10. Are there 4 to 6 people on this planet that travels with no luggage? Will they make a second trip just for their luggage? If it is ready, why do they say 3 more years to take place? How is it possible to mass produce light weight aircraft composite structures like you make cars? At this time (and probably never will be) there are no batteries that like a fast charge – not that it can not be done. If you take about 2 days to charge a pack of this size, the cycle life could be in the thousands. If you do it in 5 min, your cycle like could drop to less than 100 charges. Every battery supplier on this planet would be clamoring to keep up with your replacement orders! I have yet to see a backup method in case of any failures (unless this is going to fly in a perfect world!).

  11. Well, “According to the 2000 U.S. Census, of the 62,000 cab drivers in New York City, 82% were foreign born: 23% being from the Caribbean (the Dominican Republic and Haiti) and 30% being from South Asia (Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan).” Wikipedia

    • Using New York City as an example. There are about 65,000 Uber vehicles in NYC providing more than 400,000 trips daily. Lyft, racks up about 112,000 trips per day. Additionally, 13,500 Yellow Cabs tally about 300,000 trips each day.

      812,000 Uber/Lyft/Yellow Cab operations per day is a staggering number. I had no idea until now. I’m not sure if there is a market for Uber Air and others. But if doable I’d guess it may be limited as it requires a more sophisticated and expensive infrastructure than the ground taxi system. Therefore I’d imagine that the taxi air fleet service demand for NYC, may be just a small percentage of the 100,000 ground taxis. Maybe 4 percent or about 4000 air taxis generating about 32,000 flights per day. 32,000 air ops per day convert to over 11.6 million take offs 11.6 million landings within NYC, creating New York City into the largest airport in the universe.

    • God point Larry. Adding battery charge reserves and/or fuel reserves increasing load penalties and decreasing operational times turn 8nto negative factors. This is devolving to a mediocrely. So the human air taxi driver goes out the window to counteract. YARS is correct – automate.

    • Lack of altitude and props everywhere might make it improbable of a successful outcome.
      Basically, safety appears to be something that will be worked out AFTER battery technology and automation and noise and airspace.

  12. Some day the question will come up: How will these craft keep people warm? It does get cold in NY especially on top of windy buildings! With no gas engine – are they going to drain the batteries for warmth? People tend to forget, everything works on paper but NOT in real life.

  13. ALL of this is why “The Black Fly” has already been donated to the EAA Air Museum where — IMHO — it does NOT belong. Maybe parked out back in the childrens playground but not in the Museum.

  14. Today — an the AOPA weekly video — there was a good shot of this thing in 3-D. THIS THING HAS 12 ENGINES !!! And the wing and tail tip rotors rotate to the horizontal. This thing will cost a fortune to produce no matter who designs and builds it. And they’ll recharge enough batteries for it in 5 minutes !!

    SAY … I have a bridge I’d like to sell anyone that thinks this is anything but someone’s idea of a joke.