South Korean startup PLANA is betting big on the eVOTL hybrid aircraft market

SEOUL, Nov. 07 (Yonhap) — South Korean startup PLANA is betting big on the electric hybrid vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft market and not all-electric aircraft as they have certain challenges ahead of commercialization, said the company’s CEO.

The head of the country’s only hybrid eVTOL startup, founded in July last year by the MIT graduate who led Hyundai Motor Co.’s Urban Air Mobility (UAM) team, finds it “too ​early” for an all-electric VTOL aircraft to travel long distances due to battery issues.

Most startups have focused on developing battery-powered VTOL aircraft for air taxis and other services. But now some of them have realized that battery-powered aircraft have short flight range, lack of battery stability and lower profitability, said PLANA CEO Braden Kim in a recent interview with Yonhap News Agency.

“All-electric VTOL aircraft cannot travel long distances due to short battery life. High fixed costs and short-range operations in cities will not allow companies to make profits,” said he declared.

So the executive decided to manufacture a hybrid eVTOL equipped with a turbine generator and a battery pack, and his company attracted 14 billion won ($9.8 million) from financial investors during the the first fundraiser.

PLANA plans to start the next round of fundraising in the second quarter of next year.

The company has not yet decided which environmentally friendly energy sources will be used to operate the turbogenerator. He cited hydrogen and bioethanol as possible options.

“Startups dominate the UAM market and, unlike conglomerates, will have more business opportunities because they can focus on the UAM business and make very quick decisions on key management issues,” he said, adding that large companies have good capital and large networks, but they are generally less competitive in terms of speed.

PLANA plans to produce an aircraft one quarter the size of an eVTOL hybrid aircraft by early next year and complete its test flight in the first half of 2023. It aims to test an aircraft at large scale, which can carry four to six passengers with a pilot with a cruising speed of 300 km/h and a range of more than 500 km, in 2028.

PLANA’s full-size aircraft will weigh 3 tons and be 15 meters long, Kim said.

To enter the eVTOL hybrid aircraft market, the company must, among other things, obtain certification from the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The executive described obtaining certification as the company’s “greatest challenge” in starting the eVTOL hybrid air taxi business in global markets.

PLANA is preparing to open an office in the United States next year to begin the process of obtaining FAA certification.

“U.S. electric aviation companies, like Joby Aviation, Archer Aviation, and Beta Technologies, are pushing the FAA to establish certification standards for eVTOL aircraft that didn’t exist before. We expect such U.S. (or global) standards soon. 2024″ he said.

PLANA must submit its test results in all aeronautical environments required by the United States Aviation Agency and meet the certification requirements.

To cover testing costs, PLANA aims to list its shares on the US stock market in 2026 to raise funds of about 1 trillion won.

“If we are successful in obtaining US certification, we aim to commercialize our eVTOL hybrid aircraft first in the US market in 2028, then in East Asia, which has many islands, and in Europe, which is keen to reduce shows,” the Korean native said. said.

He said there is a “market understanding” that the hybrid eVTOL aircraft will have less difficulty in launching its air taxi services compared to fully electric aircraft because they can operate like helicopters.

“Helicopters are everywhere, and we will be able to replace the existing helicopter market because our aircraft is the hybrid-electric version of the helicopter (in terms of functions and size) and can fly more than 500 kilometers,” he said. he declares.

PLANA said it will start with intercity air taxi services rather than services in the city center, mainly due to strict regulations in heavily populated areas.

In its preventive steps, PLANA signed last week a letter of intent with Electric Power Systems (EPS) to deploy the American firm’s battery systems for its eVTOL hybrid aircraft.

PLANA is “in talks” with aircraft engine companies in the United States and Europe for technology partnerships. General Electric Co. and Rolls-Royce Ltd. appear to be potential turbine engine suppliers for PLANA.

The company has hired nearly 50 engineers who have professional careers in global names, such as Hyundai Motor Co., Airbus SE, Rolls-Royce Holdings and Samsung Electronics Co. It aims to increase the number of employees to 120 from by 2023 and 200 by 2024.

Morgan Stanley projects that the global UAM market will continue to grow to reach $55 billion in revenue in 2030 and $1 trillion in 2040, growing from $8 billion in 2020 to $10 billion in 2025 .

Market opportunities for eVTOL/UAM could be far greater than investors realize, but it may take decades to reach high-volume commercialization, the U.S. investment bank said in a research note.

“In our minds, the birth of eVTOL/UAM at scale is not a matter of ‘if’ but rather when, how and what must be overcome along the way,” he said.

PLANA expects hybrid eVTOL to bring a paradigm shift to the airline industry like smartphones have done to people’s daily lives in less than a decade.

Combustion-powered planes have dominated the market for the past 120 years, but it’s high time for a hybrid-electric plane to replace some of the traditional planes, Kim said.

“This is the only opportunity for startups to drive a hybrid-electric aircraft market by 2030, and major players will continue to gain a larger share after 2030.”

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