Uber’s plan to ferry passengers across Melbourne skies in electric drones isn’t just a pipe dream – the company has named a full-time boss for Uber Air in Australia

  • Uber has announced Natalie Malligan as the first head of its Uber Air business in Australia
  • Malligan was formerly Uber’s head of cities for Australia and New Zealand before going on maternity leave. She was a management consultant for Bain & Co in San Francisco before that.
  • She will lead the project to launch passenger air travel in Melbourne by 2023, announced by the company in June.

If you thought those images of an Uber drone flying above the Melbourne skyline were just a PR gimmick, think again — the ridesharing company has just announced a permanent executive to make it a reality.

In a blog post, Uber announced Natalie Malligan will take on the role of head of Uber Air in Australia and responsibility getting the project off the ground (literally).

Malligan — who will relocate to Melbourne for the position and was formerly Uber’s head of cities for Australia and New Zealand — will have the unenviable task of liaising with Victorian politicians, federal aviation authorities, the airport bureaucracy and the general public as the Uber Air offering takes shape.

“Natalie is passionate about Uber’s vision for the future of cities and creating seamless multi-modal transportation for Australians both on the ground and in the air, especially in cities like Melbourne where congestion is an issue,” the blog post said.

In June the company announced Melbourne as the only city outside the US chosen for a pilot of the Uber Air business, which could see regular app users ferried across the city in electric passenger drones unveiled by the company at its Elevate conference in Washington, DC or other aircraft.

The Victorian capital was chosen due to its “unique demographic and geospatial factors and culture of innovation and technology”, Uber’s regional general manager Susan Anderson said at the time.

The plan is to have Uber Air tests up and running by 2020 and commercial passengers onboard by 2023 in the three test cities of Melbourne, Dallas and Los Angeles – at least that was the stated plan back in June.

The blog post announcing Malligan’s appointment indicating there may be some wiggle room in the timeline, which is not surprising given Australia’s penchant for overzealous regulation.

“Launching Uber Air is going to be a lengthy journey but Natalie says she is committed for the long-haul,” the post said. Business Insider Australia has approached Uber for confirmation of the original timeline.

Either way, you’d imagine there are easier jobs out there than getting the green light for electric passenger drones to operate in a major Australian city.

Considering Malligan cut her teeth advising on major private equity deals for blue chip management consultancy Bain & Company in San Francisco, she is likely experienced in dealing with high stakes gambits and government relations.

It’s experience it looks like she will need.