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Uber’s deal with Airbus indicates it’s serious about hailing helicopters

Uber has done a deal with Airbus that could eventually see the company launch a more permanent on-demand helicopter service in major cities across the U.S.

The ride-hailing outfit, better known for ferrying passengers around in cars than flying machines, already has experience of operating a helicopter service, though on a very limited scale. The new partnership therefore appears to signal a more serious shift by Uber to expand its current business with the launch of an air-based service.

Airbus’s apparently quick-witted chief executive Tom Enders described the deal to supply Uber with helicopters as “a pilot project,” adding, “We’ll see where it goes – but it’s pretty exciting.”

h125 helictoper interior

Interior of an Airbus H125 helicopter.

The service, first reported on Sunday by the Wall Street Journal, will kick off at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah on Thursday, with Uber cars taking passengers to and from the helipad.

San Francisco-based Uber will use Airbus H125 and H130 helicopters for the Sundance service and has done a deal with Utah-based Air Resources for the use of more helicopters and pilots, a spokesperson for the European plane maker told the Journal.

It’s not the first time for Uber to dabble in copter rides, though this looks to be its most serious effort yet. In the summer of 2013, for example, the company tested flights for well-heeled passengers between New York City and the Hamptons, while more recently it offered services at the Cannes Film Festival in France and the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Tennessee. Such rides can cost up to $3,000 a time.

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If Uber really is looking into launching a more expansive helicopter service, it’s likely to raise concern among other firms with similar offerings, among them New York-based Gotham, and Blade, which counts Eric Schmidt – executive chairman of Google’s parent company –  among its backers.

Besides cars and the occasional helicopter ride, Uber also offers an intercontinental speedboat service across the Bosphorus in Turkey, and also offers rickshaw rides in some cities in India.