China has taken a significant stride toward the realization of self-piloting air taxis. Ehang, a company headquartered in Guangzhou, announced on Friday that it has obtained an “airworthiness type certificate” from the Civil Aviation Administration of China for its EH216-S AAV, an entirely autonomous drone that carries two human passengers..
This regulatory body is the Chinese counterpart to the United States’ Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Ehang, which is publicly traded in the U.S., asserts that it is the first company globally to secure such a certificate, enabling it to operate autonomous electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft capable of carrying passengers within China.
This certification will also significantly streamline Ehang’s efforts to obtain similar approvals for commercial operations in the United States, Europe, and Southeast Asia, according to CEO Huazhi Hu.
“We anticipate commencing our overseas expansion next year,” he remarked, highlighting the necessity for regulatory bodies to develop a framework for reciprocal regulation of Chinese airworthiness certification.
Ehang’s stock price has nearly doubled this year, and trading was temporarily halted Monday “in anticipation of an upcoming announcement concerning a very significant development regarding its business operations.” Trading was set to resume Friday.
The company currently holds a market capitalization of approximately $1 billion.
International Regulatory Action
In July, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) unveiled a plan outlining a pathway for the integration of autonomous flying vehicles, but initially still requires pilots to sit on board.
Joby Aviation, a prominent player in the U.S.-based industry, headquartered in California, recently disclosed an expansion of its flight testing program. This expansion transitioned from remote piloting to including a pilot on board, with no mention of accommodating passengers. Joby holds a contract with the U.S. Air Force valued at up to $131 million.
In China, regulators have been actively paving the way for the certification of autonomous flying vehicles. In June, China introduced new regulations for unmanned aircraft flights, which encompass vehicles without onboard pilots. These regulations are slated to become effective on January 1, 2024.
Hu, who serves as Ehang’s founder and chairman of the board of directors, mentioned that Ehang is presently assessing potential launch cities within China for its inaugural air taxi passenger flight.
However, he refrained from disclosing a specific date for this launch. Hu also underscored that China stands out as the fastest growing and most extensive market, characterized by substantial demand for these aerial vehicles.
Expansion Initiatives by Ehang in Q2
During the second quarter, Ehang reported the establishment of a joint venture in collaboration with Xiyu Tourism, a company listed on the Shenzhen stock exchange. This partnership’s primary objective is to foster low-altitude tourism, aiming to deploy a minimum of 120 Ehang vehicles over the next five years.
Ehang further reported that it has received over 1,200 overseas pre-orders, including commitments from customers such as Japan AirX, Malaysian Aerotree, and Indonesia’s Prestige. Hu said the company’s intention was to gradually fulfill these orders, given the early stage of development in the industry.
Nevertheless, he anticipates that within approximately five years, air taxis will become a common sight in many urban areas.
The announcement of the certification on Friday coincides with the decision of local Chinese authorities, including those in Beijing, to permit fully autonomous robotaxis to operate on public roads, even charging fares in some instances.
One notable distinction between self-driving taxis, and autonomous aerial drones is that terrestrial vehicles must navigate intersections, while drones traverse the airspace directly between two points, as highlighted by Ehang’s CEO.
According to Hu, Ehang commenced autonomous aerial flight testing in 2017. He acknowledged that there were some vehicle incidents during the initial experimental phase. Still, no major accidents have occurred throughout tens of thousands of subsequent flights, both domestically and overseas.
He said, “Up to this point, when transporting humans, we have maintained an excellent safety record.”
China has taken a major step toward making self-piloting air taxis a reality. Ehang, a company in Guangzhou, has received approval for its autonomous passenger drone. This paves the way for autonomous passenger-carrying drones. Ehang’s expansion plans and strong safety record highlight its leadership in this emerging industry. With evolving global regulations and advancing technology, the prospect of air taxis in our cities is becoming more likely.