Dreams of flying over congested roadways often involve exotic technology like self-flying electric planes, but a startup called Voom doesn't want to wait. "We can do it now with existing platforms and technologies—today's helicopters, internet tech, apps, dispatch algorithms," says Voom's CEO Uma Subramanian. The startup, backed by aerospace giant Airbus, just began its flight-sharing service in Brazil's sprawling metropolis of São Paulo. At least for the people who can afford to. Even with the goal of reducing helicopter ride prices by 80%, a trip from São Paulo's city center to the airport will still cost from three to five times as much as a cab fare (500-750 Reals, $160 to $240), according to Subramanian. "Initially this is more of an executive product," she says, though claims that improved routing algorithms will allow more people to ride and keep bringing prices down. Depending on the model, helicopters can take three to five passengers at once. (Voom provides the software and services, not the choppers.)
Voom plans to expand to other Brazilian cities first, then to Latin American neighbors such as Mexico City, Bogotá, and Buenos Aires. The next step will be to similar cities in Asia, such as Jakarta, Indonesia, and Manila, Philippines. Los Angeles would be a good candidate, says Subramanian, but regulations over noise pollution will make it tougher to get started. By then, perhaps sci-fi autonomous craft (like Airbus's own Vahana) will be available. "When future technologies come about, we will be ready," says Subramanian.