EHang Starts Autonomous eVTOL Test Program in Guangzhou

 - August 8, 2019, 11:42 AM
EHang plans to open a command and control center for autonomous eVTOL flights in Guangzhou, China.

Chinese eVTOL aircraft developer EHang has chosen its home town Guangzhou as the location for its first “urban air mobility pilot city.” The company, which is already working with the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) to develop a framework for regulating autonomously operated aircraft, will work with Guangzhou government officials to develop a command-and-control center from which operations can be managed.

Under the plans announced on August 7, privately owned EHang will support the southern Chinese city to develop ground infrastructure to support urban air mobility flights, including the design of safety regulations and market entry thresholds. The announcement did not say whether competing eVTOL aircraft developers will also be allowed to have input on these decisions. Under its Autonomous Air Vehicle (AAV) program, EHang is developing the single-seat Model 184 and two-seat Model 216.

EHang will use the pilot program to test flight routes and locations for so-called vertiports before launching commercial operations. The company already has been conducting trial operations carrying light freight with express delivery group DHL and retailer Yonghui.

According to the company, it is pursuing eventual type certification initially with Chinese and European aviation authorities in accordance with the Specific Operational Risk Approach established by the Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems (JARUS). It has not published an anticipated timeline for type certification, but its Austrian development and manufacturing partner FACC said it can be ready to begin series production next year.

“We are very excited about exploring the various meaningful ways in which AAVs can solve some of the stressors our congested cities face,” said EHang founder, chairman, and CEO Hu Huazhi. “We are in conversations with other cities, not just in China, to develop safe, efficient, and affordable autonomous air transportation.”

The EHang 216 is projected to be able to fly just 22 miles at a speed of up to 81 mph and at a maximum altitude of just under 10,000 feet. According to Edward Xu, the company’s chief strategy officer, it already has orders for more than 1,000 aircraft from a variety of customers for applications such as tourism, transportation, and medical logistics (such as transporting organs for transplant).

EHang first presented the 184 prototype at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in the U.S. In November 2018, the larger 216 joined the flight-test program and this appears to be the main focus of the company's efforts to get an aircraft into commercial service. In the same month, EHang announced a partnership with Austrian aerospace group FACC, which will provide support with research and development, the regulatory/certification process, and production. FACC is owned by government-backed Aviation Industries of China. The partners intend to open a flight-test center in Austria.

In January, CAAC announced that EHang is one of five Chinese companies assisting in the development of "Guidance on UAV Airworthiness Certification Based on Operational Risk." This is intended to be complete by year-end, creating a regulatory framework for aircraft including those carrying passengers. EHang is providing flight-test data to the CAAC in support of this work. FACC also is in discussion with European and Austrian authorities about type certification of the aircraft the regulation of passenger flights.

EHang has not disclosed which companies are supplying key systems, such as motors, batteries, avionics, and flight controls. It said composite materials for the airframe are sourced in China.

The plan for operations is that passengers would select their destination via an onboard tablet device. The AAV would generate the pre-set flight plan autonomously via a high-speed telecommunications connection to an EHang command and control center that would handle flight dispatch, monitoring, control, "pre-warning," and "cluster management" of the aircraft.