On-demand helicopter service aims to cut travel times during Bay Area rush hour

Fed up with the nerve-racking slowness of Bay Area commuting, the fast lane for some travelers is moving up. Several thousand feet up, and cutting the transit time from hours to minutes.

Perhaps it was just a matter of time, for Bay Area commuting to move skyward. As the workweek draws to a close, the first few helicopter flights for "Voom'", an Airbus company with an office in San Francisco, are lifting off and up. 

"In the Bay Area on average per year, the commuter lost 103 hours stuck in traffic," said Voom CEO Clement Monnet.

He says Voom has been operating in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Mexico City, Mexico, for the past two years. The Bay Area seemed a logical step considering commute time lengths here are second only to Los Angeles. 

"We're not just experiencing an increase in volume but also an enlarged breath of problems," said San Jose State University Aviation & Technology Assistant Professor Francesca Favaro.

Voom offers its services at five Bay Area airports, which include Napa, San Francisco International Airport, Oakland International Airport, Palo Alto Airport, and Mineta San Jose International Airport. Flights begin anywhere from $215 to $495 per person each way.

Company officials say using the service is nearly as easy as using a rideshare such as Lyft or Uber. They have an app, which can be used to book a flight at least one hour in advance. 

"It could be a significant contributor to CO2 and pollution if you get a thousand people commuting from San Jose to Palo Alto," said Dr. Robert Chapman Wood, a strategic management professor at San Jose State University.

He says there are enough commuters who can afford the pricey flights. The real question: Can Voom be a bridge to the clean energy zoom of a Jetsons-like system to fly around the Bay?

"The possibility of an electric helicopter that can actually carry people. That's not impossible either," said Dr. Wood.

The future could be closer than we think, as the first steps toward a vertical commute are taking flight above the fray.

The company, which currently relies on third-party helicopter companies and pilots for its services, hopes to utilize autonomous drones for passenger travel at some point.