Uber seeks to bring helicopter service to Mexico City

Internet firm plans to offer chopper flights over capital to help people avoid heavy traffic

Luis Pablo Beauregard
A tourist helicopter in Mexico City.
A tourist helicopter in Mexico City.Gobierno del Distrito Federal

In the near future, Uber, the popular car-sharing service, could make helicopters available to its customers in Mexico City as a transport alternative for those wishing to avoid the congested streets during rush hour.

Federal District government officials said they are currently working on a master plan to generate more tourism in Mexico City, including building a new airport designed by Norman Foster and Fernando Romero and remodeling Avenida Presidente Masaryk, one of the capital’s most exclusive thoroughfares.

A company spokesman in Mexico City neither confirmed nor denied the plan

But it was the Uber helicopter proposal that caught the most attention during a presentation at the International Luxury Travel Market Americas conference on Tuesday in Riviera Maya.

“They said that Mexico will soon be using the Uber Chopper service, which will enable you to call for a helicopter as you would call for a vehicle using Uber,” said Minerva Padilla, a tourist agent from Tijuana who attended the presentation at a local hotel.

Uber’s Mexico City success story

In September, Mexico City became the first Latin American capital to enter into an agreement with car-sharing services such as Uber and Cabify to operate in the capital.

After months of conflict, including violent clashes between taxi drivers and Uber operators, the Mexico City government and the San Francisco-based company are in the middle of a honeymoon.

As part of the terms, Uber pays a 1.5-% levy on all rides plus a $101 annual permit fee for drivers.

Uber drivers must use vehicles appraised at no less than $12,688 and they must be equipped with air conditioning and safety airbags, according to the agreement.

Mexico City is Uber’s 10th-largest market, with 500,000 regular customers.

“I think it is very interesting. I know that Uber is changing the way public transport is used in many cities, but I didn’t know they offered this service,” Padilla said.

Luis de Uriarte, Uber spokesman in Mexico, neither confirmed nor denied the plan, which was announced by the Federal District’s Mixed Fund for Tourist Promotion (FMPT) office.

“This can eventually happen,” he told EL PAÍS.

Nevertheless, De Uriarte explained that the Uber Chopper service, which has already been tested in São Paulo, Lisbon, Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro, doesn’t work in the same way FMPT officials believe it does.

“The service is occasional and employed for specific purposes. For Uber, it is very important to celebrate cities and promote tourism,” the Uber official said. He also declined to confirm whether Uber Chopper will be used during the Formula 1 race next month in Mexico City.

“As far as we know, they are going to introduce it in Mexico City,” said Rafael Hernández, the FMPT official who gave the presentation. “What Uber told us is that they are fine-tuning their services in cities where they have had a lot of success. Uber Chopper has already been used in São Paulo. You click on the app, but it doesn’t tell you the number of helicopters available nearby, only whether it is possible to reserve one.”

More information
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Uber had already offered a similar service in Mexico. In September, the San Francisco-based company promoted tour packages from Guadalajara, the capital of Jalisco, to Tequila – a town where numerous manufacturers of the namesake beverage are to be found – for about $207 per couple. The promotion was only offered to Uber customers who have used its services on at least 15 occasions.

Helicopters are the most popular form of transport in Mexico City for executives who need to keep appointments and want to avoid the congested streets of the capital where a 16-kilometer route can take up to 90 minutes by car during rush hour, compared with 15 minutes on a good day.

Companies such as Aerolínea Ejecutivas already rent out helicopters for about $251 an hour.

English version by Martin Delfín.

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