Aircraft

eHang's pilotless eVTOL may be certified and operational within months

eHang's pilotless eVTOL may be certified and operational within months
China's eHang says its EH216 autonomous air taxi is "hopefully" going to be fully certified and commercially operational within months
China's eHang says its EH216 autonomous air taxi is "hopefully" going to be fully certified and commercially operational within months
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China's eHang says its EH216 autonomous air taxi is "hopefully" going to be fully certified and commercially operational within months
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China's eHang says its EH216 autonomous air taxi is "hopefully" going to be fully certified and commercially operational within months
eHang's Aerial sightseeing tours have been running for some time in Zhaoqing city, southern China
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eHang's Aerial sightseeing tours have been running for some time in Zhaoqing city, southern China
The EH216 has run about 2,800 trial passenger operations at seven locations across China
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The EH216 has run about 2,800 trial passenger operations at seven locations across China
EHang says its upcoming long-range lift-and-cruise VT30 aircraft is nearly ready for flight demonstrations
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EHang says its upcoming long-range lift-and-cruise VT30 aircraft is nearly ready for flight demonstrations
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China's eHang says it's "hopeful" it'll achieve full type certification for its autonomous EH216 eVTOL aircraft "in the next few months," after which commercial operations can begin – potentially years earlier than American and European competitors.

eHang's executive team gave several insights into the company's progress as part of its Q3 2021 earnings call. "EHang and the CAAC (Civil Aviation Administration of China) have reached a consensus," remarked Founder, Chairman and CEO Huazhi Hu, "on the guiding principle that operational trial flights can gradually be carried out, while advancing the certification progress."

That appears to explain how eHang has been running so many manned flights prior to full certification, where American and European eVTOL companies are continuing with unmanned testing, working under stricter legislation. The company says it's already completed around 2,800 "operational trial flights" across seven "air mobility trial operations" providing aerial sightseeing and short-distance mobility services in Guangzhou, Hezhou, Shenzen, Zhaoqing and Sanya.

This is in addition to more than 20,000 autonomous trial flights the EH216 had taken in 11 different countries – far more, the company claims, than any other manufacturer. "With abundant operational experience accumulated and safety records built," reads the earnings report, "the Company expects to turn these operational trial flights into commercial ones after the approval of the EHang 216 Type Certificate is obtained."

eHang's Aerial sightseeing tours have been running for some time in Zhaoqing city, southern China
eHang's Aerial sightseeing tours have been running for some time in Zhaoqing city, southern China

"On the certification of our EHang 216 AAV, we have attached paramount emphasis on this project and have been promoting our cooperation with CAAC," said Chief Strategy Officer Edward Huaxiang Xu. "After multi rounds of discussion with CAAC expert team, our certification work has entered into the final stages of verification. So far the work progress appears to be satisfying, so we remain hopeful to obtain CAAC's approval on EHang 216 type certification in the next few months."

Meanwhile, the USA's leading company Joby Aviation is hoping to become the first FAA-certified eVTOL sometime in 2023. Germany's Lilium doesn't expect to have its machines ready for commercial rollout until 2024.

What's more, China is also giving eHang another huge advantage over the rest of the field, since its aircraft will launch as autonomous air vehicles. The rest of the world expects air taxis to debut with pilots on board, eventually moving toward autonomous operation several years down the track, but eHang is already running pilotless operations and integrating eVTOLs in with helicopter services and local air traffic considerations. The ability to free up a seat will be huge in this kind of vehicle, saving operators a ton of money while delivering extra revenue per flight.

We've spent some time in the past exploring how the eVTOL market is seen as more than just a commercial battle between China and America; the US military is directing a firehose of money at several eVTOL companies in the name of national security through the USAF's Agility Prime program. But if this really is another space race, it looks like it's just about over. China may win by a mile, thanks to the red tape it's willing to cut and the "innovation mindset" the CAAC is adopting.

EHang says its upcoming long-range lift-and-cruise VT30 aircraft is nearly ready for flight demonstrations
EHang says its upcoming long-range lift-and-cruise VT30 aircraft is nearly ready for flight demonstrations

As for eHang's long-range lift-and-cruise-style VT30 aircraft, Hu says it's "already capable of flying" and preparing for a flight demo "in due course." The VT30 is capable of flying 300 km (186 miles) thanks to its ability to transition to efficient winged flight. It's also likely to be significantly faster than the EH216, which can only manage around 130 km/h (80 mph) and ranges up to 35 km (22 miles), since it's basically just a scaled-up multicopter.

So it seems quite possible that commercial, pilotless eVTOL air taxi operations will be up and running in China by mid-2022 – possibly more than five years ahead of anywhere else. It also seems that the CAAC's "innovation mindset" towards manned flights hasn't resulted in any incidents at this stage, although we're not sure we'd put a lot of faith in state-owned media allowing the news to get out if anything did happen.

Either way, it seems we'll start to learn how these air taxis fit in with urban life sooner rather than later, and that's going to be something the whole world can learn from. Check out one of eHang's autonomous passenger flight trials in the video below.

Self-flying EH216 conducted passenger-carrying trial flights at Zhuhai Grand Theater

Source: eHang via eVTOL.com

View gallery - 4 images
12 comments
12 comments
doc
Excellent ! The EU/US Dumbed down regulations will see Ehang absolutely Dominate the EVTOL market with Ehang having over 2800 practical flights already geared towards commercialization, the rest of the world will be mere mites begging to gain experience while Ehang will look down smiling from heights unknown to everyone else. Well Done Ehang !
Alexander Cokonis
22 mile range ? Not acceptable, you need clean hydrogen technology. Li batteries also can spontaneously catch fires.
dan
Not hard to pass regulatory standards when the government can just wave its hand and make it okay. Let me know when they meet US/EU standards.
Alexander Cokonis
Not enough range. Change to clean hydrogen instead of batteries.
guzmanchinky
Well, given the 737 MAX fiasco, we can't really say the FAA is "better" than any other regulatory agency, can we? That said, China's regulatory agencies are famous for cutting corners and fast tracking local projects in the name of international competition. Time will tell. I'm not sure the rest of the world will be "begging mites" but hyperbole always makes great headlines...
FB36
Conditions for a proper flying-car/air-taxi (IMHO):
1: Fully electric drive (+ biodiesel/biofuel (NOT H2!) gas turbine generator)!
2: Hexacopter/octocopter! (It needs to be able to fly/land OK w/ 1 propeller failed!)
3: Needs to be able to fit into 1 (or 2) car parking spaces!
4: Needs to be able to carry 3 people (or 2 people + baggage)!
5: Its propellers need to be able to do auto-rotation in case of total power failure (for soft landing)!
6: It needs to self-correct (w/o power) to always fall upright!
7: It needs internal (+ external) airbags!
PaleDale
as for your list @FB36 #5 is not possible with a multirotor aircraft. The props are fixed pitch so cant go negative to auto rotate and they are also far too small and light to build up enough momentum to generate any lift when you go back to positive pitch just prior to landing. Adding variable pitch props would just vastly increase the complexity (more chances for failure) and add lots more weight which is already a big problem with these E-VTOLs. I would replace 5, 6 and 7 with decent ballistic parachute. Keep internal airbags though, good idea.
Ek Kent
Autorotating helicopters do not go to negative pitch. This is a common misconception.
HokenPoke
@Alexander Cokonis Plenty Enough range for short city hops. Longer range will evolve as energy storage evolves, not a short term concern ;)

@FB36
Multicopters have other superior aspects compared to normal ICE driven helicopters, where it lacks from autorotation, it makes up in redundancy and superior reliability. Botch an autorotation, which we see ever so often and your plonked to the ground like a pancake. with multicopters if your motor fails, which to begin with will be a rare case because of it's reliability advantage over ICE engines, if it does happen you simply fly safely to a landing spot with the remainder motors.

Indeed Ehang will have the advantage, EU/US regulations are by far outdated and lack innovation and progress. So indeed i agree will end up being
mite's compared to an experienced gaint ! Congratulations Ehang !
ljaques
Those were some lovely visuals in the video. Some actual sound of the rotors, too. I've always liked the overall style and engineering of the eHang, and with 20k+ autonomous flights under their belt, they've got certification in the bag, I'd bet. The FAA should list these under the Experimental class and get more data on them to quicken their eventual rollout. I, for one, don't think they'll become as ubiquitous as motorcycles or skateboards (in the next couple decades), but they'll find small niches in which they can excel.
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