It’s hard to imagine flying from Delhi airport to Connaught Place in an air taxi that does the journey in barely seven minutes. But Indigo parent, Interglobe Enterprises, has signed a deal with US company Archer Aviation to do just that. By 2026, Archer’s electric-vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft — eVTOLs for short — will cover the 27-km distance in a mere seven minutes as passengers gaze down on the metropolis. Interglobe is looking to buy 200 such battery-fuelled eVTOL aircraft in coming years.

Cross to Japan where Suzuki Motors has teamed up with a company called Skydrive and is producing eVTOLs. About 100 such vehicles can be produced annually at its Iwata Prefecture plant and, importantly, Suzuki has entered into the collaboration with an eye on the Indian market. Skydrive has also signed a deal with Hyderabad-based Cyient under which the two firms will team up on everything from product development to engineering, manufacturing and digital services.

So will flying EV taxis be criss-crossing our skies barely two or three years hence? It may be a few more years before that actually happens. Nevertheless, across the world, more than 200 companies are racing to produce short-hop eVTOLs that will carry passengers and cargo. Even GM hopes to produce a flying Cadillac PersonalSpace which it says will have a “rear fin (that) pays homage to honored Cadillac designs.”

It’s no surprise several Chinese companies are also flying high in the eVTOL game. After all, China’s automobile firms like XPeng are moving at high speed in the EV space. The Xpeng AeroHT, in fact, will be a roadworthy vehicle with a module that can take to the air. Xpeng is also coming out with dual-use road-air-vehicle that it says will be in production next year. Or look at 10-year-old Chinese company EHang which has obtained an airworthiness certificate for its two-seater vehicle to fly in China — this will also make it easier to go international. The company also has orders for 100 vehicles from an Indonesian company.

Other Chinese companies, too, are serious about moving from the ground to the air. Chinese automaker Geely, for example, bought US-based company Terrafugia and moved it almost entirely to China. It also snapped up German eVTOL company Volocopter. Now it’s looking at producing a five-seater electric air taxi. Similarly, another Chinese company TCab Tech raised $20 million last month for its five-seater sky taxi.

The Chinese are fast-movers in the eVTOL game but several American and European companies are also revving up for action. Britain’s Vertical Aerospace is developing its VX4 air taxi which will have one pilot and four passengers. Vertical has an enormous 1,400 orders from potential customers like JAL and American Airlines though a test flight crash last year raised worries. German company Lilium aims to test its all-electric jet by year end.

Closer to certification

Cross the Atlantic and there’s Joby Aviation which is also getting ready to get into the skies. Joby is ahead of many rivals because it’s completed the third of the five stages needed for certification. Joby’s air taxi will have a pilot and four passengers and can touch a speed of around 200 mph. The company has signed an agreement with the Dubai authorities to launch initial operations next year and kick off a full-fledged air taxi service by 2026. Dubai is promising “fast, safe, and convenient travel to key city spots.” To meet its commitments, Joby has just bought a manufacturing facility in Dayton, Ohio.

The eVTOL companies inevitably are giving rise to ancillary industries. Beta Technologies, for instance, is developing its own air taxi but it has tied up with another company to start putting up eVTOL charging stations at airports around the US.

There are estimates the air mobility market could be worth a hefty $45 billion by 2030 and over the next two-three years we’ll see many companies winning certification. In the near future, eVTOLs will certainly be luxury items. The Xpeng eVTOL, for instance, will retail for $138,000. Reducing cost will hinge on economies of scale. Also, many issues are bound to arise about safety, both for passengers in the air and for those on the ground. Incidentally, for those worried about the safety angle, Xpeng has experimented with what it calls a “ballistic parachute” that can bring the flying machine down to earth gently.

Industry proponents, though, insist we’re on the brink of a George Jetson-style aerial future where people will park their cars and fly around metropolitan regions and that air-taxi flights will eventually cost no more than an Uber ride.