EHang passenger drones

EHang passenger drones take off with actual, passenger-carrying demo flight

EHang, the Chinese electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) company, has made some serious waves in the urban air mobility (UAM) race as of late. While passenger drone taxis are still a futuristic vision for many, EHang passenger drones are here. Over the past few months, EHang has been racking up real-world experience with its autonomous EH216-S aircraft.

EHang recently completed the first passenger-carrying eVTOL demo flights outside of China in Abu Dhabi, which is a wealthy Middle Eastern city in the United Arab Emirates. That same drone also flew in April 2024 as the first autonomous eVTOL flight at the DRIFTx event — which also was held in Abu Dhabi.

That passenger flight was done in tandem with flights of the EH216-F, which is designed for high-rise firefighting, as well as the EH216-L, which is designed for aerial logistics. The flights happened at the Emirates Falcons Aviation Club in Al Ali, Abu Dhabi with approval by the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA).

Now those were just demonstrations, but EHang is setting its sights on actual routes. The city of Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, China, seems to be at the forefront of this effort. There’s been talk of Wuxi launching an inaugural eVTOL route. While details are still scarce, it hints at a future where drone taxis become an integrated part of our transportation network.

That said, EHang recently launched its first demo flight of the route, in a video shared to EHang’s own social media accounts, which you can see below:

Other cities want in, too. On May 31, 2024, EHang announced that the Xishan Tourism department had ordered 50 units of EHang’s EH216-S pilotless aircraft, with more to come over the next few years. The city, located in China’s Shanxi Province, wants to use the passenger drones for aerial tourism.

“The low-altitude economy is a representative of new productive forces and serves as a new track for industrial development as well as a new engine driving economic growth,” Xiangjun Jin, Governor of Shanxi Province, said in a prepared statement. “We hope that EHang’s expertise in commercializing the low-altitude economy would be a valuable source of inspiration and reference for Shanxi’s development in this area.”

What we know so far about the EH216 EHang passenger drones

EHang passenger drones

 The EH216-S is designed for intra-city passenger transportation, aerial sightseeing and air taxi service. The aircraft holds the world’s first type certificate, production certificate and standard airworthiness certificate for passenger-carrying pilotless eVTOL aircraft —— all issued by the Civil Aviation Administration of China.

EHang’s EH216 is a two-seater, fully autonomous vehicle that looks like a giant quadcopter drone. It boasts electric propulsion for quiet operation and a claimed range of around 31 miles (50 kilometers) on a single charge.

The state of passenger drones in 2024

The ASKA A5. (Photo courtesy of ASKA).

EHang is a huge name in passenger drones, but it’s not the only key player there right now. Volocopter, a German company backed by Daimler, leads with its multi-rotor electric Volocopter VC200. There’s also a passenger drone called ASKA A5. Made by Mountain View, California-based company ASKA, the ASKA A5 is the world’s first flying car to start the type certification process with the Federal Aviation Administration.

And while EHang passenger drones flew in Abu Dhabi, other drones are flying not far away in Dubai. Earlier in 2024, Joby Aviation, which leads the market for electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, signed a landmark agreement with the Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority (RTA). With that, it’ll launch air taxi services in Dubai. Though full commercial operations aren’t set to begin until 2026, Joby aims for initial tests and demonstrations as early as 2025.

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