Vetifly, a mobility company co-founded by Professor Ndubuisi Ekekwe, has announced plans to launch "Uber for helicopter" service across Nigeria.
The service would allow anyone to book a helicopter on their smartphone through its app, the same way an Uber or Bolt ride is booked. Vetifly aims to begin operations in the first quarter of 2020 across Nigeria.
Although it seems like an ambitious enterprise, Vetifly's vision is not outlandish. Uber had launched similar service, "Uber Copter", in the United States and Flying Doctors Nigeria already provides air ambulance transport service in Nigeria.
Also, a Nigerian billionaire earlier this year gave a glimpse of how "Uber for helicopter" service might work. Stuck in the traffic along Lagos-Benin expressway, the billionaire "ordered" for a chopper to airlift him out of the gridlock.
Many condemned the act as a brazen show of affluence, but BBC Africa reported that "the man had been suffering from high blood pressure". In essence, the airlifting was an emergency service rather than luxury.
On its landing page, where users can sign up to join the waitlist, Vetifly says the first flight "over traffic" will cost "as low as $100 (₦36,100)". This is 125% cheaper than Uber Copter, which cost between $200 and $225 (₦72,200 and ₦81,225).
As we unveil this waitlist, I want you to see it with optimistic exuberance on what technology can do to fix logistics frictions through better utilization of assets and factors of production. From trucking to carpooling to helicopter operations, algorithms can optimize many things, even as we wait for governments to deepen our infrastructural capabilities in Africa.
According to Professor Ndubuisi, Vetifly is one the nine startups accepted into the fourth cohort of Dubai Smart City Accelerator. The programme, which is powered by Startupbootcamp, will run from January to April 2020. As a result, the "Uber for helicopter" company will be launching in Dubai alongside selected African cities next year.
Everyday, Nigerians waste away in traffic across the 195,000 kilometer road network of the country. And the experience in Lagos, the commercial capital of the Nigeria, is most horrifying.
Left my house by 5.30am— Yinka Ogunnubi (@yinkanubi) October 10, 2018
Got to work at 9.10am
This is no longer work, it is suffer-head.
Can I work from home?
Your "Frustrated with Lagos Traffic" Employee,
On one hand, different mobility startups have sprung up to address the issue with bike-hailing service, as motorbikes can easily navigate traffic gridlock. But this has been a hit-or-miss because of the reckless driving of bike riders, who are often not readily available when needed, even via the app. There have also been instances where they cancel trips because the roads are terribly bad.
On the other, some companies, in partnership with government, are exploring other means of transportation. Hence, the launch of Gboat and UberBOAT earlier this year. Similarly, some companies now allow their employees to work remotely whenever there is heavy traffic.
These show that traffic congestion and bad road network are pernicious problems in Lagos, and across other states of the federation. But the question is, can Uber for helicopter work in Nigeria?
Will "Uber for helicopter" work in Nigeria?
To answer this question, it is pertinent to understand how Uber Copter works, albeit in the United States. Uber Copter is simply Uber Pool for air — it pools together people going from downtown Manhattan to JFK Airport and transport them by air.
Vetifly will also work on similar aggregation concept, which uses technology to reduce the friction between demand and supply. According to Professor Ndubuisi, there would be helicopter services from Ikoyi to Ikeja airports, Abuja to Kaduna, Lagos to Port Harcourt, Abuja to Kaduna, etc. There would also be white-glove service catering to peculiar needs of corporation.
Indeed, this would be another instance of technology smoothening extant processes because there a plethora of companies offering helicopter charter service.
With Vetifly, and at less than ₦50,000/flight, access to air charter service would be democratized for the middle- and high-income earners, who can't beat the traffic with bikes because it doesn't fit their persona.
Flying is also aspirational for many Nigerians as it is glamorous, but the hassle of getting ticket and delayed flights has been a deterrent. Vetifly service would make the process more efficient, especially with a serial entrepreneur and experienced businessman like Professor Ndubuisi onboard.
* Update: December 10, 2019, the seventh paragraph was added.