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Failure to Launch: Why Uber Elevates Plans May Be Grounded

Uber Elevates plans to place a commercial skyport in Santa Clara will require a lot of clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and there may not be enough to go around.

Uber Elevate envisions a world where electric helicopters can fly around major cities, offering commuters an alternative to crowded city streets and highways. The goal is to launch those flights from skyports that are strategically located around urban areas.

In June, the company announced a partnership with Related Companies, the company developing 240-acres of land along Highway 237 in Santa Clara, adjacent to Levi’s Stadium called Related Santa Clara. The idea was to possibly place a commercial skyport atop one of the development’s buildings.


But it turns out the location’s close proximity to San Jose International Airport (SJC) would require FAA clearance.

“SJC is surrounded by Class C airspace from the ground up to 4,000 feet altitude,” said Ian Gregor, the Communications Manager for the FAA’s Pacific Division. “Pilots must establish two-way radio communications with the control tower before entering Class C. Controllers can deny access to the airspace if they are too busy to handle an aircraft that wants to enter and fly within the airspace.”

Class C airspace is individually tailored for each airport. In general, it consists of a 5 nautical mile radius (5.75 miles) from the ground up to 1,200 feet and a 10 nautical mile radius (11.51 miles) from 1,200 feet to 4,000 feet.

The Related Santa Clara development is just over three miles from the airport, well within that five nautical mile radius.

While Gregor will not comment specifically on Uber’s plans, he says there are other issues with the location as well.

“Additionally, Levi’s Stadium is located near SJC,” said Gregor. “Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) are in place around stadiums during sporting events, including NFL games. The restrictions have a three nautical mile radius from the ground up to 3,000 feet altitude.”

The development is almost across the street from Levi’s Stadium, meaning Uber Elevate flights could essentially be grounded on game days.

Weather could also play a part in how Uber Elevate operates at this location.

“Here’s the problem with this: It’s right in the direction of south flow [of air traffic from SJC] and it’s well under 400 feet,” Mark Connolly, Planner with the Airport Land Use Commission told The Weekly in June. “When the weather gets cloudier or there’s rain or anything like that, that’s the way the planes land. In regular traffic, that’s the way they take off, so either way.”

Uber Elevate released images of the possible skyport in Santa Clara in June, however the company maintains this is just a vision of what the future could look like and not a promise of anything to come.

In email correspondence with Nick Smith of Uber Elevate’s Communications Department, Smith reiterated, “We do not currently have plans to launch a skyport in Santa Clara and we have not started work on an actual skyport there.”

Uber Elevate is planning to launch its first skyports in Los Angeles and Dallas, though those are still in the planning phase.


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