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Ride-hailing start-up Grab wants to solve traffic problems with helicopters

  • Southeast Asian ride-hailing service Grab is piloting a helicopter service in Indonesia
  • Jakarta, Indonesia's huge capital, often ranks among the top cities facing road congestion

Southeast Asian ride-hailing start-up Grab could be taking to the skies in a bid to improve urban mobility in one of the region's most congested cities.

The company is in the process of piloting a helicopter service in Indonesia, and Grab CEO and Co-Founder Anthony Tan discussed the initiative with CNBC's "Managing Asia."

GrabHeli services, which make use of helicopter rides as a way to get around Jakarta's traffic problems, were offered to selected users in Indonesia in June this year as part of the start-up's fifth anniversary celebrations, Grab said in a statement on its website.

"There are markets where traffic is clearly a problem for the people. Even the governments have shared that it costs the countries billions every year in GDP," Tan said.

One of those countries is Indonesia— Grab's largest market in terms of users.

Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, is notorious for its traffic jams, with road congestion in the city reportedly costing the economy 65 trillion rupiah ($4.87 billion) every year. Commuters in Jakarta can spend an additional 48 minutes each day when traveling during peak period, according to the TomTom Traffic Index.

And while Grab's existing GrabBike service targets Jakarta's traffic problem by letting users get around more quickly on a nimbler mode of transport, motorbikes, a helicopter service could speak to users looking for an upscale experience.

"There are higher value segments that don't want to jump on a bike," Tan said, adding that those users would probably turn down the use of GrabBike even if it were offered to them for free.

"But they're willing to pay premium and that premium is a chopper. They want to go from a rooftop to a rooftop."

Grab's not the only company turning to less conventional means of transportation: Uber has already trialed UberCopter and UberChopper helicopter services in several cities, including Cannes, Sao Paulo and New Delhi.

As for when exactly commuters will be able to regularly take to the skies in a GrabHeli, Tan said that would depend on liberalization of aviation regulations and demand from Grab users.

"If aviation regulation continues to open up and the segment of high-paying users continues to be very willing to pay and adopt, why not?"