Start-up incubated at IIT Madras is developing a two-seater electric air taxi

The ePlane Co – a start-up incubated at IIT Madras is developing an electric flying taxi for the urban commute. The start-up raised a seed round of USD 1 Million in Dec 2020 and expects to go to market in 2024. We caught up with Prof. Satya Chakravarthy – co-founder at The ePlane Co and Professor of Aerospace Engineering at IIT Madras to find out more.

What is the vision behind The ePlane Co?

The vision is to make flying ubiquitous, over and across cities, and into the hinterland, that’s affordable to everyone for all manners of transportation.

Who are your target market and what are the possible use cases for your product?

The target market is urban mobility. The possible use cases are:

– urban commute to beat road traffic

– reaching remote areas quickly cargo logistics

– peacetime logistics for defence

Our main specifications are compactness, long-range, and slow flying. For long range, we use wings to take the weight of the plane, but it is kept to the bare minimum width so that the plane can land and take off from the rooftop or doorstep of the customer. The slow speed is useful to enable multiple short hops in a single charge of the battery. This way, it works like a true taxi.

What kind of regulations will govern flying taxis? Does India have such a framework in place?

Currently, it is possible for helicopters to fly over cities with appropriate permissions and flight authorisations. Air taxis would come under the same classification. So, as long as the aircraft clears airworthiness certification, present regulations would suffice for the initial stages of operation. Over time, as the skies get crowded, new regulations involving autonomous air traffic control may have to be put in place. Not only India, no other part of the world has a framework in place for this yet, but quite some work is going on in different places, India included.

Where are you currently in the product development process, and when do you expect to go to market?

We are working on a subscale prototype development, and going through the design stage of the full scale prototype. We expect to go to market in 2024.

Even though flying cars are something that usually people associate with advanced countries, a recent report by Mckinsey has indicated customer preferences being strongly inclined towards air taxis in India compared to all other countries studied. This gives us the conviction that we are in the right market to begin with, and are proud to develop our product out of India for Indians and the rest of the world.

What kind of skill-set does a flying taxi company need?

A flying taxi company goes through different stages from idea to market, the initial stage being that of product development, followed by certification and flight tests, exploring use cases and developing the ops for it, and finally implementing the services in the market.

As of now, we are pretty much in the first stage, which is dominated by tech development, besides early exploration of potential customers on the business side. On tech development, India has a vibrant aerospace ecosystem of government and private/MNC players, so the available talent pool is rich and varied. Yet, we have been patient about our hiring so that we grow our team gradually and thoughtfully to include more experienced people as well as bright young minds.

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