Ehang, a Chinese drone manufacturer, has received approval from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) for its autonomous air taxi, the EH216-S AAV. This marks the first time an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has been certified to carry passengers in the country.
According to an Oct. 13 Ehang announcement, the EH216-S is a fully electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft capable of transporting two passengers. Ehang claims the certification makes it the first company worldwide to have an autonomous passenger-carrying UAV approved by regulators.
The CAAC certification will streamline approval in other markets like the United States
According to Ehang CEO Huazhi Hu, the CAAC certification will streamline approval in other markets like the United States, Europe, and Southeast Asia. Ehang plans to start expanding overseas next year, pending individual regulatory approval in each country.
The air taxi approval comes as China has allowed driverless robotaxis to operate in several cities. However, aviation regulators have taken a more cautious approach to autonomous flight. While self-driving cars navigate roads and turns, air taxis fly direct routes between destinations.
Ehang has conducted flight tests of the EH216-S since 2017, logging tens of thousands of flights. Hu stated they have maintained a strong safety record throughout testing, with no major accidents to date. The company already has pre-orders for over 1,200 units globally.
In China, Ehang recently established a joint venture that aims to introduce air taxi services to tourism locations over the next five years. Hu envisions autonomous air taxis becoming a standard mode of urban transportation within the next five years, especially in China’s rapidly growing market.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration released rules earlier this year requiring remote pilots for air taxi services. Such rules would make services powered by Ehang illgal in the United States, as the approach was to grow innovation with safety as a priority. Deputy FAA Administrator Katie Thomson said:
“This plan shows how all the pieces will come together allowing the industry to scale with safety as the north star.”
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