China knows no speed limit when it comes to technological advance. Local e-mobility startup eHang is pushing boundaries in the electric vertical take-off & landing (eVTOL) aircraft market and is now promising an air taxi service in Guangzhou, China. I look forward to testing that service on my next trip to Guangzhou.
eHang will build a fleet of autonomous passenger air taxis and low-altitude freight aircraft, making it China’s first operational urban air mobility (UAM) company, and it seems even the first in the world. The company is sanctioned by the Chinese government, and the pilot program is hosted by the city of Guangzhou.
eHang Wants To Launch An Air Taxi Service By Year End
eHang’s UAM project will show not only how a pilot can focus on low-altitude operations but also how rotor-powered aircraft will be used for UAM. Networks of autonomous eVTOL aircraft and eCTOL aircraft flying in concert, controlled and monitored by a central traffic management hub that eHang will develop together with the local Guangzhou government, will soon be popping up and relevant industries and regulators will need to quickly determine what works, what doesn’t, and adapt.
As the world braces for a more flexible and less single-point-failure- air traffic management, eHang is choosing to keep management centralized. This makes sense because the air traffic management (UTM) infrastructure isn’t finalized. In the meantime, eVTOL and eCTOL aircraft will fly commercially as UTM develops and adapts to the unforeseeable demands of these new services and uses.
eHang chose to begin the test flights this year, which was approved by the China Civil Aviation Administration. eHang demonstrated its EHang 184 aircraft carrying passengers in flight in Vienna earlier this year, and it also held a few test flights in Guangzhou in 2018. It will be the sole pilot company building autonomous air taxis for the city. Here is a test flight demonstration in Vienna, Austria:
Is eHang Ready For Commercial eVTOL Service?
An understandably excited eHang founder and CEO, Hu Huazhi, said: “We are very excited about exploring the various meaningful ways in which AAVs can solve some of the stressors our congested cities face. We are in conversations with other cities, not just in China, to develop safe, efficient and affordable autonomous air transportation.”
Can eHang really be ready this soon? Well, the company says it could have an eVTOL going back and forth between two points today. The energy use would be high but achievable. The important things here are the continuing fast pace of battery energy density development, critical to this industry’s cost competitiveness, and showing this can be done instead of argued. History has shown that the pace of battery development has been brisk.
The summary point to reflect on, though, is that within a year eHang could be flying its eVTOL 184, making it the first true UAM service.
All images courtesy eHang