When Uber announced that it wanted to bring the concept of air taxis into the mainstream conversation, it received all sorts of reactions from people, right from shock, awe, delight and excitement to suspicion, scepticism and criticism.
With Uber Elevate, Uber takes ride-sharing to a whole new level by providing end-to-end travel from suburbs to cities. What’s new, you ask? Well, it includes a ride on one of their VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft. Currently piloting in 3 cities – Dallas, Los Angeles and Melbourne – Uber Elevate aims to better connect suburbs to cities and reduce the problem of congestion on roads.
But Uber isn’t the only one making waves. Around the world, there are a select band of mobility companies, who are working on making the VTOL technology mainstream.
One among these niche companies is Navi Mumbai based VTOL Aviation Pvt Ltd.
Managing Director and Founder, Kalyan Chowdhury, says: “We started VTOL Aviation to develop and promote advanced technology-driven products in the Indian aviation sector under the ‘Make in India’ initiative, which exists to help realise India’s vision of self-reliance.
“What drove us was our vision to make a breakthrough in the conventional aviation sector and give India its first indigenous VTOL aircraft. We want to be able to launch advanced UAVs and Air Taxis successfully in India and around the world, making this technology as widely accessible as possible. We aim to incorporate advanced features in our upcoming products by leveraging modern advances in technology in areas like engines, materials, avionics and design systems.
He adds: “What’s more is our commitment to adhering to the highest benchmark in aviation safety in all of our products and technologies.”
Chowdhury isn’t just the Managing Director of the company, he is the brain behind the VTOL Aviation. He isn’t your average, just-out-of-college entrepreneur; he is a seasoned shipping and logistics industry expert, with experience spanning 26 years. In fact, Chowdhury still remains the Group Director in EFC Group Of Companies, a well-known name in the Indian logistics scene.
This certainly makes one wonder about what inspired the shift in focus from shipping and logistics industry to aviation. During our conversation, Chowdhury confessed to a deep-rooted passion for aviation and a desire to make a difference in the aviation sector – in India as well as the world over. And while he has many feathers in his cap, VTOL Aviation’s Board of Directors’ credentials certainly match up to their Managing Directors’.
In fact, apart from some leading scientists in India mentoring this venture, VTOL Aviation’s core team also includes Dr Ajoy Kanti Ghosh, Professor and Faculty in charge from the Department of Aerospace Engineering at IIT Kanpur.
Speaking about the company, Chowdhury says: “Urban aerial mobility is the need of the hour and it’s high time that an Indian company makes its presence felt globally. We’re not just catering to air taxi space; a majority of our products benefit areas such as civil defence, paramedic support, rescue missions, disaster and relief management etc. Our target sectors are primarily defence and civil aviation. If you ask what sets us apart, I’d say things such as advanced technology, different configuration and capability based products.
“As our investment is primarily scientific research driven, we have given our initial investment commitment of more than $2.18 million to our Industry Academia Collaboration Partner, IIT Kanpur. This excludes our own investment in the research laboratory and manufacturing facility at Navi Mumbai. We also have other set-ups in IIT Kanpur and other location across India In addition to this, we are aiming to set up a factory in Uttar Pradesh’s Defence Corridor.”
Key Differentiators in India
VTOL Aviation has a certain distinct advantage in the field of urban aerial mobility over the other players in the Indian aviation industry. While there are many in this field who are working to solve the problem of congestion, unlike them, VTOL Aviation makes use of the VTOL technology, which means that the aircraft doesn’t need a runway or any additional space or infrastructural development. This is critical in a market like India, where space constraint acts as a massive hindrance.
Chowdhury notes: “We are leveraging the VTOL technology, and have an added advantage in this sector based on the fact that our aircrafts can take off and land vertically from a very minimum space or area. This way, we completely nullify issues arising from space constraints and infrastructure concerns. I firmly believe that the urban aerial mobility sector has tremendous potential to be explored. So, we at VTOL Aviation, are very positive that we can make a huge difference in this sector with our technological know-how and diverse product range.”
Another key differentiator is that while other companies are predicting to have a product ready in the near future, VTOL Aviation already has a range of products available for use right now. In fact, most other players in the Indian aviation industry don’t have their own auto-pilot systems and rely on other companies to provide this service. VTOL Aviation, on the other hand, has developed its very own auto-pilot system, which is already in use.
“I firmly believe that the urban aerial mobility sector has tremendous potential to be explored. So, we at VTOL Aviation, are very positive that we can make a huge difference in this sector with our technological know-how and diverse product range.”
With VTOL Aviation looking forward to the launch of its UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and the air taxi, Chowdhury is certain that the outlook for the company as well as for this space as a whole looks quite promising.