A pair of East Asian advanced air mobility (AAM) firms want to bring air taxi tourism to Japan.
Plana, a Korean developer of electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) air taxis, on Thursday announced the signing of a letter of intent to deliver 50 aircraft to SkyTaxi, a spinoff of Japanese taxi operator Daiho Taxi Group created last year to take the firm’s business to new heights.
The nonbinding agreement would see Plana deliver 10 CP-01 air taxis to SkyTaxi by 2030, followed by 40 more in 2040. The companies have also tentatively agreed to develop future AAM aircraft and operational and design concepts.
“This collaborative project between Plana and SkyTaxi will have a huge impact on the global AAM industry by players from Asia,” SkyTaxi CEO Hakuto Tojo said in a statement. “We are committed to developing the best business with Plana so that we can be a model case for one of Asia’s leading AAM industries.”
SkyTaxi parent Daiho has run a taxi service in Japan’s Osaka region for nearly a century. Now, it’s training pilots, introducing new aircraft, and conducting operational tests with some pretty major initiatives in mind.
The company is looking to connect the Osaka region’s city centers as well as its key flight hubs, Kansai International Airport and Kobe Airport, via air taxi corridors. But even beyond that, it’s eyeing long-range tourism routes to sightseeing destinations across Japan—and eventually beyond, with cross-border AAM routes.
SkyTaxi selected Plana’s CP-01, recently revealed to be under development, because of its potential to complete those long-distance flights. To reach an effective range of up to 310 miles, the aircraft relies on a hybrid powertrain, which leverages a mix of turbine generators powered by sustainable aviation fuel, electric motors, and batteries to produce electric propulsion.
“Plana believes that by adding a long-time proven turbine generator to the energy source of an eVTOL, we can use the battery with the most efficient and safe [state of charge] range while enhancing the aircraft’s profitability with a highly improved flight range,” the company says on its website.
The aircraft also features a large interior cabin capable of fitting six people including a pilot, with two-sided doors, wide windows, and six tilt rotors to provide stability. For logistics and medical applications, the cabin can be reconfigured to provide added storage.
CP-01’s comfort-centric design helped Plana secure a win in the Professional Concept category at the 2023 iF Design Awards, considered some of the most prestigious in the world. eVTOL makers Lilium and Vertical Aerospace have also received the award.
“We have opened up a huge potential market in Japan, and for the first time in the world, we are looking at cross-border travel,” said Plana CEO Braden J. Kim. “We will proceed with the development of the aircraft according to the roadmap we have designed and continue to develop more optimized utilization models by understanding the specificities of each country’s market.”
Things are moving quickly for Plana. Founded in 2021, it already has partnerships in place with Wisconsin-based vertiport firm Volatus Infrastructure, Japanese vertiport maker SkyScape, Korean airliner Jeju Air and others to create new ecosystems for air taxi flights.
The firm also made a big move last month, putting down roots in the U.S. with offices in San Jose and Irvine, California. Its goal, ultimately, is to attract American partners and earn Federal Aviation Administration certification. At the moment, FAA eVTOL standards are still being ironed out, and even well-established U.S. firms like Joby and Archer Aviation still await approval.
While Joby is targeting a commercial launch by 2025, Plana’s estimate is a bit later – and perhaps more realistic. It expects to hold the certifications necessary to mass-produce its aircraft by 2027. Before that, it anticipates the first test flight of a full-scale CP-01 prototype by 2025 and a U.S. initial public offering via a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) by 2026.
While Plana’s focus is on Korea and Japan, we could see its air taxis pop up in the U.S. this decade.
In January, the FAA and the Korea Office of Civil Aviation (KOCA) agreed to partner on AAM certification, which could speed up the company’s U.S. approval. Its partnership with Volatus, which is planning to build a vertiport at Pennsylvania’s Bellefonte Airport, could also provide an entry to the U.S. market.