At a ceremony in Delhi on Thursday (9 November), InterGlobe Enterprises, the main people behind Indian airline carrier IndiGo, sealed a partnership with the United States (US)-based Archer Aviation.
The collaboration will bring 200 of Archer Aviation'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. It suggests as an example that the distance of 27 kilometres (km) from Connaught Place in New Delhi to Gurugram in Haryana can be covered in 7 minutes against the 60-90 minutes by car.
'Midnight' is a pilot-plus-four-passenger, electric-powered VTOL that has already been certified in the US. It is undergoing a series of trials prior to the initiation of commercial services in about three years.
The India announcement is the second from Archer, after its anchor customer, United Airlines, made the world’s first specific route announcement in the eVTOL industry in November last year: 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 km will be covered in 10 minutes, compared to about 40 minutes on a good day by road. This new mode of transport will obviously be popular with the many professionals who work in the Manhattan business district of the Big Apple and commute regularly from Newark airport.
InterGlobe’s thinking and business plan appear to be along similar lines. "We are excited at this new opportunity of bringing an effective, futuristic and sustainable transport solution by introducing Archer’s electric aircraft to India," says Rahul Bhatia, group managing director of InterGlobe.
Archer’s chief executive officer and founder, Adam Goldstein, says: “India is one of, if not the largest opportunity, for eVTOL aircraft utilisation 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 apparently in sync with these ambitions. At a short-haul air mobility conference in April this year, 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 as work in progress.
Earlier this year, Indian urban air mobility platform FlyBlade India and the US-based Jaunt Air Mobility announced 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 aircraft, with an option for another 100 aircraft 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 Inc 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 own eVTOL is also in the works: Incubated at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras, Chennai, since 2019, the ePlane Company received what's called the "design organisation approval (DOA)" from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in May this year, making it the first Indian e-aircraft company to obtain it.
It 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: the 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 and more focused, with the government giving its tacit approval.
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