Uber gives Macron a lift with flying taxi investment

Ride-hailing app plans to invest €20m in France to develop aerial mobility

The road to flying taxis cranked up a gear on Thursday after ride-hailing app Uber said that it plans to invest €20 million in France over the next five years to develop aerial mobility.

Uber will put the investment towards creating a research and development centre that will initially focus on Uber Elevate: vertical takeoff and landing aircraft that can be deployed as uberAIR flights.

Uber has said previously that it wants to operate demonstrator flights starting in 2020 and begin commercial operations in 2023. It has already selected Dallas and Los Angeles as its first two launch cities and is seeking a third.

Uber also said on Thursday that it will launch a five-year research partnership with École polytechnique, one of France’s prestigious “grandes ecoles”.


The investments in France are a boost to president Emmanuel Macron, who has been courting international companies as he seeks to make the country into a global technology hub. Uber has in the past had a fractious relationship with France, one of its largest markets, where its low-cost car sharing service UberPOP was declared illegal and the company faced continuous spats over pricing and employee rights.

"With world-class engineers and a leading role in global aviation, France is the perfect place to advance our Uber Elevate program and new technology initiatives," Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi said in a statement. "We're excited to partner with École polytechnique to shape the future of urban mobility, on the ground and in the air."


Separately, on Wednesday Facebook announced a further investment in France to mark the third anniversary of its artificial intelligence lab in Paris - the company's largest artificial intelligence research centre in the world. The investment is centred on research: Facebook committed to funding 48 university grants and eight theses by 2022, and said it is donating 20 servers to research institutes.

The announcements came as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Mr Khosrowshahi visited Paris this week, where on Wednesday they were two of four chief executives to have a one-on-one meeting with president Macron.

Paris is home to Facebook’s In January the group said it would invest €10 million in the French research base over five years to double the number of AI scientists to 60 and increase its funding of PhD candidates from 10 to 40. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018