Designs for the aircraft -- which differ from helicopters in appearance, technical features, efficiency and fuel consumption -- are yet to be finalized. Proposed take-off and landing zones equipped with aircraft charging stations have not yet been built.
In a white paper published last year, Uber outlined hurdles the company is likely to face, including infrastructure challenges, pilot training and certification and air traffic concerns.
The company has taken steps to address some of those issues: It announced Wednesday that it signed an agreement with real estate developer Sandstone Properties to build take-off and landing hubs at Los Angeles International Airport and in downtown L.A., Santa Monica and Sherman Oaks in time for a 2020 launch.
The company has also partnered with NASA to develop new unmanned traffic management systems intended to enable appropriate air traffic control for aircraft flying at low altitudes in urban environments.
Despite the momentum behind the project, Jim Harris, a partner at Bain & Co. who leads the firm's aerospace and defense practice, said the regulatory timeline tends to be longer than companies expect.
Certification from the Federal Aviation Administration for commercial aircraft can include two years of rigorous testing. On top of that the company must ensure the safety and stability of the batteries that will power the aircraft. And then the company will need to win over consumers, Harris said.
"When you have a pilot in the aircraft, you'll see consumer adoption pretty fast," he said. "But for some autonomous experiments, it's going to take awhile for consumers to be comfortable being in an air taxi without a pilot."
Harris said he could see a commercial electric aircraft service launch within the next 10 years. But for a larger-scale service that's economically viable?
"More like 15," Harris said.
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