The ePlane Company is India’s first flying taxi company that looks to transform the mobility landscape using aerial transport. The Chennai based startup is building electric planes which can be used for 10X faster commute within cities at a similar price to road taxis and can also be used for moving cargo in remote and rural areas. Looking to get some answers on how this seemingly futuristic idea of air taxis will transform and benefit the logistics segment, we reached out to Prof. Satya Chakravarthy, Cofounder of The ePlane Company who explains the role of air taxis in the last mile, talks about the operational and security challenges, specifies the segments that will benefit from deploying air taxis in cargo operations and much more.
Introducing a new mode of transport comes with its share of problems, especially in terms of acceptability and affordability. How do you plan to tackle these problems?
Helicopters exist today to ferry goods and people from place to place, and they have been accepted for a long. It’s the affordability that we are working on, by making it electric and at the same time behave like a plane in forwarding flight to maximize range as well as improve safety and redundancy. This is what will make the use of these eVTOLs ubiquitous to the point that it starts looking like a new mode of transport. But it’s been existing in some form, just that it’s going to get bigger and better.
Building awareness through the show and tell is fundamental to being able to develop a user base in deep-tech services/products. Most people are curious but are seldom going to take a step in that direction, so raising awareness of how the tech works and how it will become a sustainable part of travel networks is key here.
The unit economics of the whole solution is essentially trying to have a low single-digit multiplier compared to the uber’s/Ola, but it promises to cut down travel time by almost 1/10th the time in congested cities when compared to road travel.
Once operational, how do you believe ePlane will facilitate efficient and costeffective last-mile deliveries with air taxis? Please elaborate.
Yes! Hugely. We’ve been able to keep the product cost low. This is mainly due to designing a small plane, as well as the India play on low-cost high value development.
Also, last-mile deliveries are a huge challenge in certain geographies in terms of accessibility.
With warehouses and supply chains trending to leaner systems, adopting best practices of just-in-time inventories, ePlane will be able to connect several warehouses to the last mile pileup point and ultimately the recipient. Besides, ePlane offers eVTOLs for different segments of deliveries as well. The mid-mile segment between the warehouse to the distribution centers would be served by the 50 kg and 200 kg payload class of vehicles whereas the last mile would be served by the 6 kg and 50 kg payload class of vehicles, as required.
The company recently raised $5 million in funding. How do you plan to allocate this fund to shape your cargo operation plans?
The prototypes we are building are designed to be a cargo variant, they will be able to carry a load of about 30-200 kgs across 100-150+ kilometers on a single charge. This means multiple hops between warehouses that can be as far as 100kms. It enables the supply chain to have lesser touchpoints between inventorycustomer. We will be using the funding raised in building the first few prototypes of the e50 and e200, going through with their flight tests, and initiating the certification process.
Apart from this, we would continue to hire the right talent, as we have been able to attract a lot of talent purely based on our vision of transforming the logistics space aerially.
The concept of air taxis does seem like a futuristic idea. So, that begs the question: By when can we expect your air taxis to fly in the skies?
There are quite a few companies trying to build flying taxis around the world, so it is not as futuristic as it might seem. We aim to have our 1st flights of the e50 and e200 cargo variants by Q3-Q4 of 2022. Further work will involve a certification process through the next year before we have them ready for commercial deployment by late 2023. The passenger variant would undergo additional flight tests for a more rigorous certification process, expectably, which would take us until 2024 for its commercialization as air taxis. We have already started the work on commercializing the e6, which is a very small eVTOL, through 2022.
This is an abridged version of the original interview that was published in the June edition of the Logistics Insider magazine. To read the complete article, Click here.