Los Angeles is pressing ahead with plans to integrate eVTOL aircraft into its public transportation network with the launch of its Urban Air Mobility Partnership. In a December 16 announcement Mayor Eric Garcetti said the new public-private partnership between his office, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation and Urban Movement Labs, “will educate and engage the city’s residents around a new and dynamic transportation technology–the introduction of low-noise, electric aircraft flying in our local airspace by 2023."
That timeline matches the plans hatched by the Uber Elevate platform for Los Angeles to be an early adopter city for its air taxi network. However, on December 9 eVTOL aircraft developer Joby Aviation announced it will acquire this part of Uber, essentially absorbing its project aimed at building an ecosystem for urban air mobility into its own plans for this sector.
Joby has not yet definitively confirmed whether it will press ahead with the Uber Elevate plans to launch initial air taxi services in Los Angeles and/or Dallas. “As far as launch cities, we’re excited to maintain the dialogue that was established under the Uber Elevate platform as we integrate that team’s perspective into our own go-to-market strategy,” a company spokeswoman told FutureFlight.
There is no mention of Uber Elevate or Joby in Los Angeles’ announcement about the Urban Air Mobility Partnership. However, the statement did highlight the participation of Joby’s rival Hyundai, which is providing financial support to the initiative.
“Developing a scalable system to support urban air mobility will ‘take a village’ and Hyundai is proud to work alongside the City of L.A. and Urban Movement Labs to advance this important mode of transportation,” said Pamela Cohn, chief operating officer of the Urban Air Mobility Division of Korea’s Hyundai Motor Group.
Hyundai was one of Uber Elevate's eight manufacturing partners. Along with six other eVTOL aircraft developers it has seen its partnership agreement terminated by Uber following the announcement of the deal with Joby, which was also part of the group.
According to sources close to the transaction, Uber offered Hyundai the chance to acquire Elevate, but it declined to do so. Hyundai has not responded to requests by FutureFlight to comment on the disbandment of Uber Elevate, which had involved a partnership between rival aircraft developers to prepare a common ecosystem for air taxi operations.
According to Mayor Garcetti, the new partnership will help the city to build alignment among stakeholders to resolve issues such as access to public airspace and property rights, as well as developing concepts for the vertiports around which the planned services will operate. The partnership is due to run for one year and will be charged with producing, “a policy toolkit that can be utilized and deployed by cities, counties, and tribal governments across the country.”
Urban Movement Labs, which was formed in November 2019, will work with a company called Estolano Advisors to recruit “an urban air mobility fellow charged with advancing a comprehensive public engagement strategy.” It has been working with Los Angeles World Airports to improve the LAX FlyAway shuttle service, as well as launching robotic last-mile delivery pilot services in partnership with Kiwibot.
In September, Mayor Garcetti’s office partnered with the World Economic Forum and a group of 50 public-private stakeholders to publish a white paper called “Principles of the Urban Sky.” This established core commitments for urban air mobility around safety, sustainability, low-noise, and equitable access to public transportation.