Preparing for launch: Can e-mobility take to the air in Indonesia?

Electric mobility is an increasingly cost-effective solution for two-wheelers and heavy users of four-wheelers and provides environmental benefits, experts say.

Nicolas Meyer and Andrey Berdichevskiy

Nicolas Meyer and Andrey Berdichevskiy

The Jakarta Post


Future taxi: This undated and unlocated image released by Archer Aviation Inc. shows the company’s eVTOL aircraft, a personal electric vertical takeoff and landing demonstrator aircraft.(AFP/Handout/Archer Aviation Inc.)

March 2, 2023

JAKARTA – Electric vehicles traverse the skies above Jakarta on critical journeys that bypass the challenges of rush-hour jams. This might seem like a scene from Hollywood blockbuster The Fifth Element, but it could soon be a natural evolution in Indonesia’s transportation ecosystem.

Transportation electrification in Indonesia is traveling at an impressive pace, with electric vehicles (EVs) targeted to reach an annual production capacity of over 3 million by 2030. Electric mobility is already an increasingly cost-effective solution for two-wheelers and heavy users of four-wheelers, providing both environmental benefits through reduced air pollution and lifetime emissions and quality-of-life benefits for riders.

Indonesia aspires to be a leading market and manufacturing powerhouse for this vibrant industry, with ambitious plans highlighted in Boston Consulting Group’s recent report Electrifying Indonesia’s Two-Wheeler Industry. Electric two-wheelers (E2Ws) provide the most lucrative opportunity in this space, with a target to produce 2.5 million units by 2030 while reaching 25 percent sales penetration.

Now take this natural evolution of transportation to the next level, quite literally, as EVs take to our skies. Imagine taking an air taxi across an Indonesian city, or linking to outbound international transportation at the airport. This fantastical reality is closer than you might think.

The key to this remarkable future is in a new category of aircraft known as the electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle (eVTOL), which could radicalize our transportation ecosystem.

Innovation takes to the air in Indonesia

Numerous players have entered this nascent market in recent years, raising funding and securing pre-orders of over 7,000 units to 2025 and beyond.

Just five years ago there was a wide-open space and a variety of plausible routes for eVTOL evolution, answering a market appetite for cleaner, hassle-free mobility. Rapid advances have illuminated constraints, clarified regulation, and presented a clearer picture of what an eVTOL airscape might look like.

As we explore a glimpse of this future, there’s an important reality check on what we might see:

.No dodging a daily commute. Personal eVTOLs will not replace the daily commute. Flexible inner-city connections and point-to-point transportation replacing cars is a distant utopia due to the requirement for vertical-landing vertiport infrastructure, and the need for fast, high-voltage chargers of 150 kilowatts to 350 kW. The eVTOL will be limited to terminals and large landing pads.

.No replacing mass transit. Trains and bus rapid transit (BRT) will continue to be the mainstay of mass transit. Larger eVTOLs with 20 plus seat capacity will likely not emerge for at least another decade.

.No sole control of the skies. The eVTOL will not fully replace the conventional helicopter market, particularly not for trips over 250 kilometers.

Don’t be discouraged, eVTOLs still promise a better future in Indonesia, with electric air mobility offering immense opportunities for fast, clean transportation where it is required.

Key use cases include medical response, allowing emergency services to bypass congestion in cities such as Jakarta, where road infrastructure is expanding at a rate 950 times slower than the population growth and the average person spends four hours in traffic per day. Transporting patients, medical personnel and critical medical supplies, such as blood bags and donor organs via air routes, could save critical journey time.

The eVTOL will empower emergency supply chains and play an important role in disaster relief in a nation that suffers more than its fair share of floods and earthquakes. With a smaller, more versatile, and cost-effective footprint than conventional helicopters, eVTOLs offer the chance for rapid and effective deployment to transport supplies and specialists to and from disaster areas.

Connectivity across Indonesia’s dispersed national geography can also be enhanced, connecting rural communities and bypassing challenges of limited rail or road infrastructure. A remarkable 77 percent of rural areas in eastern Indonesia and 62 percent of Kalimantan’s rural areas lack access to paved roads connecting villages. The eVTOL can help transport key goods and individuals across remote areas, bridging the gap between communities and infrastructure funding.

The eVTOL can also provide economic and sustainability advantages with low-noise mobility, replacing helicopters in community services such as policing, firefighting and rescue operations.

Growing urban populations and commuter numbers in metropolitan centers such as Jakarta, Surabaya, Bandung, Medan and (soon) Nusantara capital city, create challenges for urban sprawl and traffic congestion. The eVTOL can reduce demand on road infrastructure, with early applications in routes between suburbs and cities, ports and cities, airport and cities, as well as inter-city connections such as the 150-km Jakarta–Bandung, 100-km Surabaya–Malang and 130-km Yogyakarta–Semarang routes.

Technological development continues apace, and Indonesia could emerge as a manufacturing hub for eVTOL components and vehicles due to critical raw material availability, increasing battery production capabilities and competitive labor costs.

Indonesia’s eVTOL ecosystem will have to evolve to realize this potential over the next decade, progressing beyond late-stage concept development to overcome vehicle certification challenges such as airworthiness and further challenges in the air mobility ecosystem, with regulation, infrastructure and manufacturing excellence being the three most prominent:

.Regulation and certification. Regulation agencies will need to create a proper environment for eVTOLs to fly, collaborating with international bodies and aviation regulators such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). This is critical for aligned global standards. Singapore currently leads regional efforts, with a recent MoU signed between the Civil Aviation Authority Singapore and EASA to collaborate on urban air mobility, including development of regulatory safety standards and certification and operation requirements.

.Infrastructure readiness. Infrastructure could be a major bottleneck for eVTOL development. The immediate next step will be to secure partnerships between infrastructure providers and eVTOL operators to design future-ready vertiports. Standardized deployment should be established, sufficient for all aircraft types. Only general guidelines have so far been released by regulatory agencies, without any regulation standards specific for Indonesia.

.Manufacturing excellence. With a growing battery and electric vehicle manufacturing sector in Indonesia, a new approach to factory and process design with production cadence between the automotive and the aerospace industry will be critical to succeed.

The year 2022 was an exciting year for urban air mobility in Indonesia, with private jet charter firm Prestige Aviation pre-ordering 100 passenger-grade eVTOL aircraft from EHang, marking the Chinese company’s single largest order in Asia to date. Hyundai also signed an MoU with Nusantara capital city authority to establish an ecosystem for advanced air mobility.

This is a promising platform for liftoff for Indonesia’s burgeoning eVTOL ecosystem, and a path to harness significant environmental, social and economic benefits that can elevate the lives of Indonesians. It is time for the private and public sector to come together and collaborate to see this opportunity soar, accelerating the innovation and evolution of green air mobility above Indonesia.

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