April , 2022
ePlane is a natural progression from electric cars
11:32 am

Saptarshi Deb

The next big thing in urban commuting is going to be VTOL aircrafts. Prof. Satya Chakravarthy, CTO, ePlane and Professor, Department of Aerospace Engineering, IIT Madras has taken VTOL design one step forward in India with innovations that can revolutionize urban commute in India.

BE’s Saptarshi Deb spoke to Prof. Chakravarthy on his vision of ubiquitous flying that can change the face of urban commute in India.

Q. Take us through your vision about the ePlane project. How did it start?

A. ePlane is a natural progression from electric cars. As battery capacities and prices are getting disrupted, planes are the next big step. Unfortunately, the batteries won’t take them too far in the foreseeable future, so they can make business sense only for saving travel times across traffic in cities. For this, they need to take off and land vertically.  So, I studied through the existing eVTOLs and found a gap in the offerings that does not address a mid-mile segment of 10-20 km where we did not have planes that would do multiple such short hops in a single charge.  Hence, we configured a plane with a unique combination of fixed wing and vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) fans that would address this segment.

Q. How far have you proceeded with it?

A. We are in the detailed design and component testing phase.  We will be assembling the components and parts together to make the first flying prototype in the next few months.

Q. Are Indian cities ready for Urban Aerial Mobility Service that will look to replace road taxis? Isn’t it too futuristic?

A. This is fast becoming an archaic question. In many ways, India is the future of the world. That might sound like hyperbolae, but in the present context, even we were surprised to find evidence to believe that India has the most appetite for urban aerial mobility in the world. A June 2021 report of Mckinsey surveyed around 2500 customers around six countries in the world including India, China, Brazil, Poland, Germany, and the US, and found that over 60% of Indians were warming up to UAM for multiple different travel segments across the city like commute, leisure, shopping, etc. unlike just 30% of participants from other countries. And, Indians were willing to pay around 3-5 times their current mobility costs for UAM as compared to not a penny more by Germans and Americans. Our eVTOL is the most compact in the world and does not require large and separate vertiports, so we will use existing infrastructure for landing and takeoff, which can be found around most places in Indian cities.

Q. A project like this involves heavy investment. How are you mobilising investment for this project?

A. The heavy investment happens over a period of time and we need investors with patient capital to make a good return on investment over a longer period. We have been working with such investors in the past and are looking forward to finding more such investors in the future. Increasingly, there is respect for deep tech in India and more and more investors are warming up to it.

Q. How is the global community placed in certifying small VTOL aircrafts? Is there any specific roadmap present in India for the same?

A. EASA (Europe) and FAA (US) have been engaged in certifying small category eVTOLs in the last few years. There is an outlook put out by these certifying agencies themselves that some aircraft around the world could be certified for operations by 2024. There is a similar outlook for such certification in India over the same time frame as well. And we are developing the necessary roadmap for that process.

Q. What is your marketing plan? Who will be the prospective buyers?

A. Both individual customers as well as air taxi operators. On the former, we would adopt direct marketing, whereas with the latter, we plan to strike suitable partnerships.


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