Aanyone interested Viewing the sprawling cityscape of Guangdong, a bustling province in southern China, from above, may soon be able to do so from the cabin of a flying taxi. On October 13, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) issued a “type certificate” to the world’s first electric vertical take-off and landing, an important part of aviation documentation (eVTOL) taxi. And in case that doesn’t sound futuristic enough, the small two-seater, is called E.H216-comeIt was allowed to fly without a pilot on board.
The E.H216-come It is made by Guangdong based company EHang. It’s like a scaled-up consumer drone, with a passenger bubble attached. Propulsion is provided by 16 small rotors, mounted on the tips of eight arms that fold up when the vehicle is not in use, allowing it to be parked in small spaces.
EHang has already set up a factory to manufacture the aircraft at scale. The company hopes that sightseeing flights to Guangdong could begin before the end of the year. There is also interest from elsewhere. On October 18th the city government of Hefei, Anhui Province, announced a $100m contract with EHang to use 100 machines to provide tourist flights and other services such as delivery and emergency response. The company believes its eVTOLs will one day be able to offer taxi rides at the same price as terrestrial cabs
The score of EVTOLs is evolving around the world. They have already attracted more than $30 billion in orders, said Robin Riddell, co-head of the Center for Future Mobility, part of McKinsey. Being the first to be certified could allow China, which is interested in promoting the industry, to gain valuable operating experience.
The CAAC EHang gave its approval after conducting more than 40,000 test flights with volunteer passengers in 18 cities across China. Subject to this E.H216-come for structural analysis and crash tests, and tests its ability to keep flying if one of its rotors fails. Regulators also inspected the wireless network that EHang uses to connect its flying taxis to a control center on the ground. This allows backup pilots to land an aircraft by remote control in case of a problem.
EHang’s pilotless e saidVTOL Helicopters will be quieter than their closest relatives and much cheaper to run, thanks to the ability to swap out an expensive pilot for a second paying passenger. Performance, however, will be limited, at least at first. The E.H216-come It has a range of about 30km, and a speed of up to 130kph. EHang is developing a second version, VT30, with a range of 300km – although this will require separate certification.
The firm thinks that removing pilots will also make things safer, in the same way that enthusiasts argue that self-driving cars, if they are widely deployed, could prove safer than human-driven cars. A computer’s attention never waves, and its reflexes operate at the speed of silicon. And flying is, in many ways, much easier to automate than driving, because there are fewer obstacles and unpredictable situations to navigate.
EHang also has ambitions outside of China. It has conducted demonstration flights in America and Europe with a view to obtaining type certificates in both markets. The company said it hopes its Chinese approval will shorten that process. But American and European aviation regulators may take a more cautious approach than their Chinese counterparts. Both have indicated that they will initially only approve piloted air taxis and allow autonomous flight only after the vehicles prove themselves safe in human hands. Given that the most driven eVTOL Designed with automation in mind under development, the piloted version is costly to build. Although this may encourage more people to use them.
The firm’s closest rivals are Volocopter, a German company, and a pair of Californian firms, Joby Aviation and Archer Aviation. All three are conducting test flights of the piloted EVTOLVarious designs. The Volocopter vehicle, for example, looks like a typical helicopter, with a passenger pod suspended below a circular frame supporting 18 small propellers. It hopes to begin carrying passengers in its two-seater version (one seat used by a pilot) at the Paris Olympics, which opens in July 2024.
And EHang isn’t alone in taking the autonomous route at first. Wisk Aero, another California company, has begun testing a pilotless EVTOL As part of America’s certification program. The company, which is a subsidiary of Boeing, the world’s largest aircraft maker, will also use a ground-based control center to monitor flights. Since Wisk only expects to receive certification sometime “this decade,” EHang may have to wait around for a long time before it can do so.■