November 11, 2023: At a ceremony in Delhi on November 9, InterGlobe Enterprises the main people behind Indian airline carrier, IndiGo, sealed a partnership with US-based Archer Aviation to bring 200 of the the latter’s electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) craft,”Midnight”, to Mumbai Bengaluru and Delhi in India.
InterGlobe hopes to inaugurate short electric air taxi services in these cities by 2026 in these crowded metros. It suggests that the distance from Connaught Place in New Delhi to Gurugram in Haryana – 27 kms -- can be covered in 7 minutes against 60-90 minutes by car.
“Midnight” is a pilot-plus-four-passenger electric powered VTOL that has already been certified in the US and is undergoing a series of trials prior to commercial services in about 3 years.
The India announcement is only second for Archer, after its first customer, United Airlines, made the world’s first specific route announcement in the eVTOL industry: between United’s hub at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) in New Jersey state and the Downtown Manhattan Heliport, located above Battery Park on Pier 6, in New York City. The distance of 19 kms will be covered in 10 minutes, compared to around 40 minutes on a good day by road. This will obviously be popular with many professionals who work in the Manhattan business district of the Big Apple and commute regularly from Newark airport.
Route maps of the first Indian and American plans for the Midnight eVTOL here
InterGlobe’s thinking and business plan appears to be on similar lines. Says Rahul Bhatia, Group Managing Director of InterGlobe: “We are excited at this new opportunity of bringing an effective, futuristic and sustainable transport solution by introducing Archer’s electric aircraft to India.”
Adds Archer’s CEO and Founder, Adam Goldstein: “India is one of, if not the largest opportunity for eVTOL aircraft utilization in the world, as it is home to the world’s largest population of over 1.4 billion people and its largest cities face some of the greatest congestion challenges in the world. Archer’s all-electric Midnight aircraft is designed to provide a revolutionary transportation solution that can help address these congestion issues.”
The Indian government is in sync with these ambitions. At a short haul air mobility conference in April this year, Union Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia said: “We are willing to be equal stakeholders with you…in setting up what will be the seeds of a transport revolution starting with India… come and be part of the story to touch new highs in the skies!”
InterGlobe has made the first announcement – but there are other such opportunities being progressed:
Earlier this year, Indian urban air mobility platform, FlyBlade India and US-based Jaunt Air Mobility, announced today a strategic partnership to launch eVTOL aircraft operations in India and the subcontinent region by 2027.The partnership includes a non-binding arrangement to procure 150 Jaunt Journey aircrafts with an option for another 100 aircrafts to meet the projected demand over the next decade. Blade India is already addressing short haul mobility services in some cities with conventional aircraft
In 2022, Tech Mahindra joined with Los Altos (California-US)-based NFT, to help develop electric ‘drive-n-fly’ vehicles.The partners said they were working to launch a four-seater e-flying machine, Aska, with a range of 400 km, by 2026.
India’s one eVTOL is also in the works: Incubated at IIT Madras, Chennai since 2019, the ePlane Company received Design Organisation Approval (DOA) from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in May this year – the first Indian e-aircraft company to obtain it -- and is now set to go into a flight trials phase. The company is developing what is claimed to be India’s first and the world’s most compact flying electric taxi, designed for up to 10 times faster intra-city commutes and cargo transport
It must be stressed that many regulatory hurdles remain before any of these ventures move into Indian skies: DGCA took a lot of time before it came on board for the operation of drones in India. Hopefully the vision for an Indian stake in electric air taxi service is clearer, more focussed, with government giving its tacit approval.
This article has appeared in Swarajya