Opinion by Amit Dutta, managing director, BLADE India

Vertical mobility, which includes vertical take-offs and landings, dates back over 600 years to Leonardo da Vinci’s time. In 1490, he sketched a model aircraft with an Ariel screw – which he called the Helix Pteron or the “Spiralling Wing” – a crude version of today’s helicopter. However, due to certain design flaws, Da Vinci was never able to build a working model of his prototype. It wasn’t until 1901, centuries later, that the first helicopter rose into the air over Berlin city. Today, vertical mobility, under the umbrella of the broader “urban air mobility” is acquiring new significance globally.

The aviation industry has taken massive strides in the past decade or so. Wide-bodied planes today can carry up to 850 passengers. Earlier flying was very premium and used seldom, in times of emergency. Today, it’s a way of life! But now, new technologies are making it possible to cover short-haul distances, catering especially to inter and intracity routes.

The need for alternative sources of mobility has only heightened with the saturation of ground transportation in megacities burdening the economy, environment, and commuter. With two-third of global population living in urban areas, infrastructure has saturated. We expect these areas to be home to another two and a half billion people by 2050. Coupled with empty airspace and market sentiment changes due to Covid-19, urban air mobility is inevitable.

Poised to disrupt the mobility market, the global market is expected to explode at a compound annual growth rate of 25 per cent to reach a whopping US$80 billion by 2050. The first commercial urban air mobility passenger services is expected to be operational within next two to three years. Led by China and Singapore, this market is expected to begin in megacities. The story back home is no different. India’s metropolitan cities (Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Chennai) have struggled with urban congestion for years. For instance:

Mumbai-Pune Expressway sees one million  cars daily

  • The Bengaluru Airport to City route (25 km) on average takes about 120 minutes to cover during peak congestion times
  • Tirupati, one of the busiest pilgrimage centres in the world, sees daily visits of 70,000 devotees
  • An ambulance takes an average 30 mins to cover a distance of 6 km in city traffic

For India, the opportunity of urban air mobility lies in business, pilgrimage and leisure travel, mega events, organ transfers, air ambulances and last-mile delivery. India is also home to four million affluent households who have the propensity and willingness to pay for time conserved, a huge asset of air mobility. The pandemic has only made this concern evident. Additionally, these low-capacity mobility vehicles ensure that one by-passes the crowds at airports, addressing concerns of social distancing and sanitation.

We have exhausted and cluttered all other modes of transport. Soon, the Indian traveller will become more discerning with a growing preference for personalisation of their travel experience.

Bold as it may, we believe that the urban air mobility will be a disruption as massive as the telecom revolution. While emerging technologies and business models, like ride-hailing and sharing, are joined by autonomous vehicles, micro-mobility, and eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing), we see over US$7 trillion in existing markets impacted over the next ten years.

With an initial positioning as a high-priced exclusive service, we eventually expect it to expand as a public transport service, solving the pain point of predominantly intra-city congestion. In a densely populated country such as India, the constraint of severe road congestion can be effectively tackled through urban air mobility solutions and BLADE India is poised to address these concerns and trends.

Needless to say, the future is certainly electric!