Hybrid-based eVTOL Startup PLANA Sees Market For Intercity Operation
Advanced air mobility startup PLANA recently unveiled its CP-01 hybrid-electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) air taxi, which the company believes will have sufficient range and endurance to perform intercity regional flights in South Korea.
The CP-01 is a fixed-wing tiltrotor aircraft capable of flying a pilot and six passengers—or 600 kg (1,300 lb.) of cargo—up to 500 km (310 mi.), excluding reserves, at a cruise speed of 300 kph (186 mph). The aircraft is powered by a series hybrid drivetrain that comprises batteries, turbogenerator and six electric motors that drive six five-blade tiltrotors: two on the main wing, two on the canard foreplane and two pusher propellers at the rear fuselage.
The CP-01 also is envisioned to operate on sustainable aviation fuel, even possibly transitioning to hydrogen fuel, increasing the emissions-reduction potential of the aircraft, according to the company.
Speaking to the AAM Report, PLANA CEO Braden J. Kim says the aircraft’s hybrid powertrain is a key differentiator from competing air taxis because it will add range, extend the battery lifespan and reduce maintenance costs while inserting greater redundancy into the vehicle’s design and reducing its reliance on new infrastructure.
“Hybrid is the best option to maintain the health of the battery system and to protect against degradation, not just to extend the range,” Kim says. “Because we can maintain the health of the battery, our replacement period . . . is more than two years over more than 10-hour operation per day, while the pure eVTOLs must do that at least six times per year.”
According to Kim, the vehicle initially is intended to fly short-haul flights between urban areas, capitalizing on the population density and relatively small size of South Korea. Urban air mobility missions will have to wait, as Kim predicts it will take at least five years from the start of service to create a viable business case for operators, considering obstacles related to airspace, electrical generation, traffic management and infrastructure. In the meantime, the company plans mainly to utilize existing helicopter infrastructure during its initial commercial phase, he says.
“In [South] Korea, there is very limited space and power supply available in our big cities like Seoul,” Kim explains. “It will take time to construct vertiports and to find enough power supply for the vehicle charging. Even if urban operation is possible, the demand will be very limited because the price will mean people still will choose their own cars. So I think there will be more opportunity for an intercity operation.”
PLANA is a participant in the South Korean government’s upcoming K-UAM Grand Challenge alongside Jeju Air. The companies have pledged to work jointly to advance training and standards for operators, pilots and other workers in the AAM industry.
The cooperation between the two companies could hint at a future commercial relationship, too, as Kim suggests the roughly 450-km (280-mi.) trip between Seoul and Jeju Island—one of the world’s most frequently operated routes—could be an ideal service to be operated on the hybrid-electric CP-01.
The company last year built and tested an all-electric one-fifth-subscale model and plans to introduce a half-scale model by early next year. Kim says PLANA is targeting 2025 for the completion of a full-scale prototype that with the hybrid powertrain system.
PLANA is targeting entry into service in 2028. The company has 70 conditional orders: 50 from Japanese operator SkyTaxi and 20 from prospective U.S. operator Ghenus Air.