India unveils ambitious advanced air mobility plan

Presently India has 89 airports with commercial scheduled services, with 558 domestic routes in service
Last Updated 27 March 2023, 21:09 IST

Poised on the cusp of aviation explosion, India is now looking at transitioning into electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) advanced air mobility (AAM) operations to address its regional and urban mobility issues.

"The eVTOL future is not as far as it seems - by 2025, this global dream will come true and India will be a pioneer…," Rajiv Bansal, Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation, declared, addressing a conference on advanced and short-haul air mobility here in Bengaluru.

Presently India has 89 airports with commercial scheduled services, with 558 domestic routes in service. But according to a study presented by Darrell Swanson, co-founder of EA Maven and a former advisor at NASA, the country has the potential for 3900 domestic routes between these airports, only a fraction of which are currently served by traditional aviation.

The report has identified 162 possible routes (up to 240 kilometers) for eVTOL and 2100 for Electric Short Take-Off and Landing (eSTOL) operations. While AAM supports the transportation of people and goods between various geographic areas, Urban Air Mobility (UAM) is a subset of AAM and focuses on lower altitude operations within urban and suburban areas.

Morgan Stanley has estimated that the global UAM market will grow 30 per cent annually between 2021 and 2040, reaching $1.5 trillion by 2040. The demand for UAM in India arises from the need for solutions for urban congestion, lack of regional connectivity and quick adoption of e-commerce. As per a study conducted by Uber, the Indian economy loses approximately Rs 1.44 trillion because of traffic congestion in its four major cities – Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, and Delhi.

BLADE India, a joint venture between New Delhi-based investment fund - Hunch Ventures, and New York-based BLADE Urban Air Mobility, began its helicopter services in Karnataka recently to cut down travel time from Bengaluru International Airport to old HAL airport from two hours to 15 minutes and is exploring options of moving to eVTOLs.

“The plan sounds ambitious and India could be an early adopter in this market,” said Rishi Jain, Consultant, Jain Aviation Consultants.

India has one of the largest EV markets globally, whose growth is marred by infra shortcomings. eVTOL pioneers hope to build the sectors in tandem with a vision to improve multimodal mobility, pointed out Patrick Buckles, Chief Revenue Officer, Beta Technologies, an aviation and aerospace OEM. eVTOL's infrastructure development may help solve the bigger transportation problems in India, he added.

“Currently, there are more than 200 eVTOL-related projects around the world under different stages of design, development and testing,” PwC revealed in a report. India is still at an early stage as far as eVTOLs are considered, it added.

Although some companies have developed eVTOL concepts, the lack of regulations specific to eVTOLs – including their certification scheme – is leading to the delayed inception of the technology.

“The eVTOLs are treated at par with commercial airlines when it comes to guidelines, clearances, safety regulations and policies. The stringent regulations in aviation also apply to urban air mobility," Amit Dutta, Managing Director, BLADE India, noted. EVA manufacturers are going through rigorous FFA clearance processes and even in India, this certification process will be time-consuming, he added.

Infrastructure was also identified as one of the leading challenges to UAM whether it is charging stations, vertiports (specialised structure that supports take-off and landing operations of eVTOL aircraft), air traffic management, or manufacturing units.The lack of realty to support vertiports is another roadblock.

The aviation ministry is planning to commission a study on Indian domestic short-haul routes to understand different use cases with facts and figures, said Bansal. The aviation ministry is also looking at drones as a growth sector for AAM. The government will soon be announcing the first set of production-linked incentives for drones, Bansal said. He added that while 15 drone categories have already been certified, this number would go up to 50 this year.

(Published 27 March 2023, 16:58 IST)

Follow us on