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Uber air taxi boarding
An illustrative video clip shows a passenger preparing to board a future Uber air taxi. (Uber via YouTube)

Pop up some more popcorn: Billionaire Elon Musk has gotten himself into another CEO vs. CEO challenge, this time with Uber’s Dara Khosrowshahi over air taxis.

Uber and many other companies are working on electric-powered, flying vehicles that could carry passengers autonomously between landing pads, circumventing traffic jams. Uber has said it could start testing what are basically flying cars by 2020 in Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth and Dubai.

Khosrowshahi — who left Bellevue, Wash.-based Expedia last year to become Uber’s CEO — is sold on the idea. Musk isn’t. Instead, the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is partial to tunnels that let cars or electric-powered pods zip beneath surface roads. Musk’s tunneling venture, The Boring Company, is involved in experimental projects in the L.A. area as well as Chicago and Baltimore-Washington, D.C.

Other ventures, Virgin Hyperloop One and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, are following up on Musk’s Hyperloop concept for near-supersonic travel through low-pressure tubes.

With that background, an Indian journalist got today’s party started with a tweet:

It didn’t take long for Musk to respond, even though he was gearing up for the first launch of SpaceX’s prototype Starlink broadband satellites:

Khosrowshahi is in India for a tech conference and business meetings, including a sit-down with India’s aviation minister to discuss flying cars. But he did take the time to reply to Musk’s tweet:

Will going high or going low win out when it comes to alternatives to surface traffic congestion? Los Angeles could serve as the perfect laboratory for the experiment, determining whether Khosrowshahi or Musk has the better idea.

Check out these dueling visions:

Today’s exchange means you can now add Uber to the list of companies whose feathers have been ruffled by Musk. That list also includes:

  • Blue Origin: In 2013, when Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ space venture put in a bid to lease the same launch pad that SpaceX wanted at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Musk quipped that he was “more likely to discover unicorns dancing in the flame duct” than see Blue Origin come up with a human-rated spaceflight system that could dock with the International Space Station by 2018. A couple of years ago, Musk and Bezos became ensnared in a Twitter tiff over their respective rockets, but lately they’ve been on more cordial terms.
  • United Launch Alliance: This month, when a Twitter follower wrote that ULA was aiming to switch from its Atlas 5 rocket to its next-generation Vulcan rocket after 2020, Musk made light of the idea. “Maybe that plan works out,” he tweeted, “but I will seriously eat my hat with a side of mustard if that rocket flies a national security spacecraft before 2023.” Soon afterward, United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno tweeted out pictures of his favorite hat and a lunchbox.
  • Boeing: The Boring Company’s name could be seen as a dig at Boeing, and SpaceX is a fierce competitor for the aerospace giant. When Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said that his company will build the first rocket to send astronauts to Mars, beating SpaceX to the punch, Musk’s response on Twitter was terse but daring: “Do it.”
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