China-based eVTOL aircraft developer EHang this week received an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) safety certificate from the China Academy of Civil Aviation Science and Technology (CAST). The Level II certificate vouches for the safe performance of its EHang 216 autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV) and its Falcon drone in a UAS "fence" that the company has developed to prevent autonomous aircraft from operating in restricted areas.
According to EHang, the CAST safety certificate is internationally recognized by organizations affiliated with the China National Accreditation Service for Conformity Assessment (CNAS). The privately-owned company says that it is the first company in the world to receive the Level II certificate and that its expertise in developing UAS fences gives it an advantage in the market to develop urban air mobility solutions.
The UAS fence has been evaluated in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, where EHang and local authorities are working to develop infrastructure to support autonomous eVTOL operations. The company, which has a background in information technology and manufacturing drones for commercial use, has developed a command-and-control center to manage the operation of aircraft.
“EHang’s command-and-control system is significantly more intelligent in managing AAVs' flight routes, and real-time remote communication via 4G and 5G telecom networks makes their operation simpler and safer than conventional drones that are manual-controlled by radiofrequency within limited distances,” explained Zhang Zhengjuan, a senior engineer at CAST’s Civil UAS Inspection Center.
EHang is working to achieve full type certification for its two-seat 216 and single-seat 116 electrically powered multicopters (each with 16 rotors). It has been working with the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) to develop a regulatory framework for eVTOL aircraft based on the Specific Operational Risk Approach established by the Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems.
The company also has plans to manufacture the aircraft in Europe with its Austrian partner FACC. According to EHang chief marketing officer and co-founder Derrick Xiong, it has yet to decide whether to seek European type certification under the new SC-VTOL rules announced by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in July 2019. He also declined to confirm whether or not EHang will achieve its original goal of being ready to start full series production in Austria in 2020.
FACC is owned by government-backed group Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC). Xiong indicated that most of the technology used for the AAVs has been developed in-house at EHang, acknowledging that some has been provided by unnamed suppliers.
Meanwhile, EHang says that it already has more than 1,000 orders for its AAVs and that it has already made an unspecified number of deliveries. These aircraft have gone to as yet various partners in China, North America, and Europe with the intention that the partner companies will demonstrate their potential use to prospective customers on a trial basis. In China, the partners include DHL-Sinotrans, which is evaluating operations to deliver packages, and Yonghui Group, which is trialing food deliveries. In the U.S. and Canada, an undisclosed biotechnology company is looking to use the aircraft to transport organs for transplant procedures. In Norway, an unnamed automobile distributor has invested in some of the AAVs and is probing applications such as moving equipment and personnel to and from industrial facilities.
The aircraft are currently being operated in China under a test certificate issued by CAAC. Xiong explained that its partners are actively involved in the process of laying the groundwork for eventual type certification.
While EHang remains open to new partnership and investment proposals, the company says that it has sufficient financial resources to see its AAV aircraft into full commercial operations. “We have a very healthy financial situation,” Xiong told AIN. “We have been making deliveries and getting paid, plus we have other sources of income, such as arranging more than 200 drone swarm light shows for advertising campaigns in China and supporting Azerbaijan and Guangzhou with their plans for urban air mobility.”
EHang's AAVs are intended for short-range operations. The Model 116 can fly up to around 19 miles at speeds of up to 81 mph. The 216 has a range of up to 22 miles.