evtolinsights.com has published several articles in recent weeks about the exciting new 7-seater hybrid eVTOL Aircraft being produced by South Korean company, PLANA AERO. This week, local media outlet, Yonhap News Agency, published an interview with PLANA’s Founder and CEO, Braden J. Kim.
The journalist, Choi Kyong-ae, points out that PLANA is South Korea’s sole eVTOL start-up. The company was set-up in July, 2021 by Kim, an MIT graduate who before had led Hyundai’s Urban Air Mobility (UAM) team, before the project transformed in to Supernal.
Kim believes “All-electric VTOL aircraft cannot travel long distances due to a short battery life, where high fixed costs and short-distance operations within cities won’t allow companies to make a profit.”
Therefore, PLANA is producing a hybrid eVTOL equipped with a turbine generator and battery pack. The company has already attracted close to USD10 million investment from a first round of fundraising. Kim is considering a second in Q2 of next year.
He explains that while major companies have good capital and broad networks, they are usually less competitive in terms of speed. “Startups are leading the UAM market as they can focus on making very fast decisions on key management issues,” says Kim.
He points out PLANA plans to produce an aircraft that is one-fourth the size of a hybrid eVTOL aircraft by early next year and complete its test flight within the first half of 2023.
This photo taken Nov. 2, 2022, shows PLANA CEO Braden Kim talking about his hybrid eVTOL aircraft plans during an interview with Yonhap News Agency at a Hollys Coffee outlet in Jongno, central Seoul. (Yonhap)
By 2028, the company aims to gain full certification and begin commercial operations. The aircraft will carry up to six passengers and one pilot with a cruising speed of 300 kph and a flight range of more than 500 km. It will weigh 3 tons and be 15 metres in length.
PLANA aims to set-up a U.S office next year to begin the process to obtain the FAA certification. Kim remarks, “U.S electric aviation companies, like Joby Aviation, Archer Aviation and Beta Technologies, are pushing the FAA to create certification standards for eVTOL aircraft that didn’t exist before. We expect such U.S (or global) standards as early as 2024.”
To cover the testing and trialling costs, PLANA is looking to list on the U.S. stock market in 2026 to raise funds of up to 1 trillion won.
Kim comments, “If we succeed in gaining U.S certification, we will commercialise our hybrid eVTOL aircraft, there first, followed by East Asia, which has many islands, as well as Europe.”
He believes there is a “market understanding” that a hybrid eVTOL aircraft will have less difficulties in launching its air taxi services compared with fully electric aircraft, as it can operate like a helicopter.
Kim continues, “Helicopters are everywhere, and we will be able to replace this existing market as our aircraft is the hybrid-electric equivalent.” PLANA explains it will begin with inter-city air taxi services rather than inner-city services due mainly to strict regulations in heavily populated areas.
After signing a letter of intent with Electric Power Systems (EPS) last week to deploy the U.S firm’s battery systems for its aircraft, the company is “in-talks” with aircraft engine companies from the U.S and Europe for technology partnerships. General Electric and Rolls-Royce could become potential turbine engine suppliers.
The company has hired close to 50 engineers with former working pedigrees from such prestigious companies as Hyundai, Airbus SE, Rolls-Royce and Samsung Electronics. PLANA aims to increase the number of employees to 120 by 2023 and 200 by 2024.
Morgan Stanley forecasts the world’s UAM market may continue to grow to USD55 billion by 2030 and a huge USD1 trillion in 2040. In the report the financial institution writes, “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.”
Kim continues, “We expect hybrid eVTOL aircraft to bring a paradigm shift in the airline industry, just as smartphones did in less than a decade.” He concludes, “This is the only opportunity for startups to generate a hybrid-electric aircraft market by 2030, where the leading players will gain a bigger share afterwards.”
(News Source: https://en.yna.co.kr/)
(Top image: PLANA)