Reading Time: 5 minutes

At the very beginning, most companies would start by identifying a problem and would then go on to build solutions to solve for it. But imagine not being held up by any of those constraints, building technology for the love of it and then identifying what problems it can solve? And that’s just what The ePlane Company did.

Co-founder, Prof. Satya Chakravarthy, was previously a professor of Aerospace at IIT Madras. He had worked on combustion all his life, having even set up the largest centre for academic combustion research in the world. 

“The realisation struck him that the world is going electric, and while most areas, including automotive, have already seen an impact, aerospace will probably be the sector to see it last. Instead of living in denial, he wanted to adapt to the change and that’s where the idea of making electric planes first came about,” says Pranjal Mehta, CEO of the Indian eVTOL start-up.

Mehta, who was a student at IIT Madras back then, was well-known as a budding entrepreneur because of his previous start-up. He had also won several competitions in the areas of business and entrepreneurship. It was Mehta’s seniors who introduced him to Prof. Chakravarthy and The ePlane Company came about.

“Our approach was slightly different. We did not start out to solve congestion. We looked at the technology and tried to imagine what it could solve for rather than the other way around. When we realised that it can solve congestion, that’s when we dove deeper into the problem statement. I grew up in Bangalore, and so I understand the dynamics of a congested city very well,” he jokes.

“In the electric aviation space, most flying taxi players have chosen to go down two distinct routes. On one hand you have players who have chosen to focus on or have built an aircraft that doesn’t have much range, so they have to operate in the 0-5kms or the 0-10kms micro-mobility range. On the other end of the spectrum, you have players who have built something so big and powerful that it cannot be used for 5-50kms and they are then forced to do what we call inter-city or regional connectivity,” explains Mehta.

“These players are now tying up with airlines and becoming their partners for a hub and spoke model, where they fly customers from suburban areas to the main city. We, on the other hand, are specifically focused on the part of mobility where congestion is maximum, which is your 5-50km segment.”

The ePlane Company

“We truly believe that air-taxis can do what elevators have done for buildings.”

The ePlane Company is building a two-seater aircraft designed for intra-city travel. With a footprint of just 4m x 4m, it just might go down to be one of the most compact aerial vehicle in the world. The vehicle would go about 200 kms in a single charge and is completely battery operated.

“I want to draw your attention to our idea of defrastructure. If we have to make this accessible to everybody, we need to not limit where these vehicles can take off and land. Having very dedicated helipads or airports where the vehicles can be accessed would limit who can afford this at cost. Add to that the complexity of infrastructure and building an ecosystem. We are trying to build something that is so compact and light that it can land on any given rooftop,” says Mehta.

“Moreover, it becomes a much richer experience because unless you can land on top of buildings or just near them, you are going to look at a three-legged journey, similar to what you see in the current bus, metro or air transportation, where you go from your home to some dedicated landing or take off spot,” he adds.

The ePlane Company calls this ‘Concept True Flying’, where the customer goes to the top of their apartment building and sets off for their destination. If they’re flying directly, an hour-long journey can become as short as 10-15 minutes.

Sony Dsc

Mehta and team have already finished building a lab-scale prototype. Currently, they’re building a sub-scale prototype, which would be around 3m x 3m in dimensions and with a carrying capacity of 50 kgs. While design and development are complete, this prototype is currently being assembled and is expected to fly very soon.

As for the full scale prototype, which is a 200 kg carrying vehicle and is 4m x 4m in dimensions, it’s currently under design and development. The ePlane Company stands by its design methodology of building small vehicles first, learning from it and then inputting it into a larger vehicle.

The current development process is helping the team learn, as will the upcoming test flights. This will then feed into the full-scale prototype, which is expected to fly by March or April, 2022.

“For the passenger business itself, we are looking to hit the market by late 2023 or early 2024. In terms of the product development, we are looking at the first flight by the first half of next year, after which we would go into certification, both for cargo applications and passenger applications. We expect the cargo certification by the end of that year itself, because it takes lesser time to certify for cargo, as the challenges are lesser and the consequences of the design compromise is lesser,” says Mehta.

Dubai Seaside

An Elevator Pitch

The team expect to achieve passenger certification by 2023 and launch its commercial service by late 2023 or early 2024

“We actually raised our first round of funding last year, where we raised $1 million from Speciale Invest as the lead, and Naval Ravikant as the co-lead. There was also participation from FirstCheque, Java Capital and CIIE in this round. We have deployed this capital to expand our engineering bandwidth, build our prototypes and the infrastructure required to build these prototypes,” he says.

Mehta is convinced that air-taxis has the power to disrupt mobility as we know it, especially in a country like India, where congestion is rampant and public transport infrastructure has a lot of catching up to do in terms of reach and capacity.

Speaking about what the future holds, Mehta says: “While we are working very hard to get this plane out there, our larger aspiration is to make this technology so affordable and accessible that whenever anybody steps out of their home to go out anywhere, they choose to book this rather than booking a ride as they do conventionally on Ola, Uber or an auto. We want to do this pan-India and not just in one or two cities, so if we can get to ten cities by 2025, that would be awesome.”

The start-up is also looking at building 4- and 5-seaters. It will look into building larger vehicles for different use cases.

“We truly believe that air-taxis can do what elevators have done for buildings. Without elevators being invented, we would not see up to 100 storey buildings at all. We were limited to three-storey buildings, where the ground floor was the most sought after and expensive. Air-taxis are going to do something similar for cities.”

“Today, the most sought after property are ones that are in the heart of the city. But my true belief is that if we can build these air-taxis, you’ll see the rise of suburban areas, where they would be the most expensive and people would want to live there. I’m certain this is what air-taxis can do – really allow cities to grow much beyond what we have today,” concludes Mehta.

Leave a Comment