Uber's flying taxis are one step closer to lift-off, with the company announcing Australia, Japan, India, Brazil, and France are on a shortlist for a third test location.

The transportation giant announced the options for test countries to trial UberAIR flights at its Elevate summit in Japan on Thursday.

Despite initial suggestions Auckland could be one of the first cities to use the electric aircraft, New Zealand was missing from the list.

A swarm of international media mingled with Uber's tech experts at the expo, held on the rooftop of a skyscraper overlooking the buzzing centre of Tokyo.


The spot was not unlike those presented as options for Skyports - the sleek, concrete stations where Uber's futuristic aircraft would dock.

Not one to settle for pamphlets and dull speeches, the company showcased the concept through a virtual reality experience at the site.

A model of Uber's electric aircraft at the Elevate expo in Tokyo. Photo / Uber
A model of Uber's electric aircraft at the Elevate expo in Tokyo. Photo / Uber

Attendees were decked out with goggles and headphones, then invited to sink into a cushy chair, where they would be transported into one of Uber's eVTOL aircrafts.

The electric, helicopter-like vehicles, designed to accommodate up to five people, rose straight up into the air and soared across a gridlocked city before descending smoothly on to the top of a highrise building.

While the concept of hailing Uber's version of a flying car to conquer the morning rush across Auckland might seem a little pie in the sky, the company was determined to flip our perceptions.

Addressing scepticism around Elevate, Uber's head of aviation Eric Allison expected the concept would become "a lot more real" for people as partnerships advanced and testing began.

"It will be a progression towards helping people understand that this is not just a sci-fi thing," he said.

"We need to move it from being cartoons and interesting ideas and visualisations of data ... moving towards delivering physical tangible things."


Auckland was a city name thrown around in early discussions around test locations, but was later ruled out due to its relatively small population time.

However, introducing Elevate to New Zealand was the eventual plan.

Speaking to the Weekend Herald, Uber's chief operating officer Barney Harford said the fast-growing nature of our main centres meant the company was enthusiastic about what UberAIR could offer.

"The potential to be working with New Zealand to bring new transportation options to the market is super exciting for us.

"I think we could be a really strong partner to New Zealand."

A third city from the shortlisted countries would be confirmed in the next six months, and would join Dallas and Los Angeles as the three trial cities for the company's Elevate endeavours.

Back in New Zealand, the Ministry of Transport's principle adviser Helen Robertson said Government was keen to work with Uber to understand whether Elevate could help address transport challenges in Auckland and other parts of the country.

"Globally it is not yet fully understood what contribution air taxis will play in easing congestion," Robertson said.

"Improving our public transport system will make the biggest contribution to resolving Auckland's congestion issues, but air taxis may have a role to support this in the longer term."

Addressing the idea of airspace regulations, Robertson said Elevate would need to meet a range of aviation regulations if it were to operate in New Zealand.

"In the future, if air taxis prove to be a viable transport option it is likely we will need to look at developing new regulations that reflect their unique service."

Uber planned to begin demonstrator flights across the three test cities in 2020, while the transportation option was tipped to launch on the Uber app in a number of cities in 2023.

Significant work was under way in Dallas and LA around airspace regulations and infrastructure for its proposed "skyports" - landing and take-off pads - to be located on the top of buildings or near transport hubs.

Speaking at the Tokyo conference on Thursday, Uber's chief operating officer Barney Harford said Elevate could help cities tackle congestion and the subsequent loss of productivity.

"There is a fundamental limit to the space available on the ground in our cities.

"This is the logical next step for making Uber the one-stop shop for moving people, and things."

While Elevate would not be here in the next two years, New Zealand was already the testing ground for projects such as Kitty Hawk - which was also testing autonomous flying taxis.

Financed by Google co-founder Larry Page, Kitty Hawk's autonomous flying vehicle Cora was being tested in Canterbury.

The Herald attended the Uber Elevate Asia Pacific Expo as the guest of Uber.