South Korean start-up Plana is putting down roots in the U.S. as it prepares to apply for FAA type certification of its five-seat VTOL aircraft. The company recently opened California offices in San Jose and Irvine to give it easier access to the U.S. air safety regulator and prospective American partners.
The Plana team is already conducting flight tests with a one-fifth scaled model of the hybrid-electric aircraft, which it expects to carry a pilot and four passengers on flights of over 500 kilometers (313 miles). It is preparing to participate in the K-UAM Grand Challenge urban air mobility demonstration project that is being organized by Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport in the second half of this year.
To achieve its desired payload and range combination, Plana intends to deploy a powertrain consisting of an as-yet-unspecified, off-the-shelf turbogenerator, electric motors, and batteries. Initially, the company intends for the generator to run on sustainable aviation fuel, but it envisages a possible transition to hydrogen fuel.
The design revealed in early April shows four tilting rotors, installed in pairs at the tips of the wing and a canard, and each with an independent electric motor. At the rear of the fuselage are two pusher propellers.
Plana’s business model calls for it to act as an integrator of propulsion, avionics, and aircraft systems provided by existing aviation manufacturers. The program is being advanced under the working title of CopterPlane CP-01, but Plana expects to confirm the name of the production aircraft when it builds and flies the first full-scale prototype in 2025. The company’s target date for achieving U.S. type certification is in 2028.
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According to Plana, it has signed a letter of intent covering 20 aircraft to be deployed by prospective operator Ghenus Air. The company, which launched earlier this year, is looking to branch out into air taxi service from its current VIP car service business model in locations including the Korean capital, Seoul, and Los Angeles. It also has a provisional sales agreement with Jeju Air in Korea.
To date, the company has raised around $11 million through pre-series investment outreach. Anticipating a need for up to $1 billion to get an aircraft into mass production, Plana plans to embark on a Series A funding round this year, followed by a Series B round in 2025 ahead of a possible initial public offering on the Nasdaq market via a merger with a special purpose acquisition company in 2026.
Including the new U.S. offices, Plana employs more than 60 people, with almost three-quarters of these being engineers and other technologists with advanced post-graduate qualifications. The company expects to increase its headcount to 100 during 2023.
The K-UAM Grand Challenge is a key part of the Korean government’s plan to develop an urban air mobility roadmap to support initial commercial eVTOL operations from 2025. Plana is committed to providing an aircraft to be used as part of an extensive demonstration program.
South Korea is fast emerging as a probable hotspot of early activity in the advanced air mobility sector, with anticipated early uses cases such as tourist flights to Jeju island. In addition to low-cost airline Jeju Air, start-up operator Mint Air has committed to adding new aircraft such as Jaunt's Journey eVTOL and Electra.Aero's eSTOL model to its fleet. The U.S. eVTOL developer has attracted backing from South Korea's TMAP and SK Telecom, while the country's WP Investments venture capital group has backed Volocopter.