Imagine flying over the city in a pilotless, electric-powered aircraft that can take you from point A to point B in minutes without a pilot onboard. Sounds like science fiction, right? Well, not anymore.
China-based Ehang has become the world’s first company to receive airworthiness certification for its fully autonomous, passenger-carrying air taxis.
What are electric air taxis?
Ehang’s EH216-S air taxis are electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft that can carry up to two passengers or 600 pounds of cargo. They are powered by 16 electric rotors and can fly at speeds of up to 80 mph and distances of up to 18 miles.
How do electric air taxis operate without pilots?
The air taxis are controlled by a centralized command and control center that monitors the flight status, routes and weather conditions.
Passengers can simply select their destination on a touchscreen inside the cabin and enjoy the ride without worrying about piloting the aircraft.
The air taxis do not require traditional infrastructure such as airports or runways. They can take off and land vertically from any flat surface, such as a rooftop, parking lot, or park.
The air taxis use electric power to reduce environmental harm caused by emissions. They can be fully charged in two hours and have low noise levels.
The EH216-S vehicles have multiple redundancies in their systems, such as backup batteries, rotors, and communication links.
They also have emergency landing systems and parachutes in case of any malfunction.
How did these China-based electric air taxis get the approval to fly?
Since 2014, over 40,000 test flights have been conducted in various locations around the world. In January 2021, Ehang applied for a type certificate from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), which is the official recognition of the airworthiness of an aircraft.
The CAAC evaluated Ehang’s air taxis for over 500 parameters, such as structural strength, software simulation, flight performance and electromagnetic compatibility. The process took more than 1,000 days and involved extensive laboratory, ground and flight tests.
On October 15, 2023, Ehang announced that it had received certification from the CAAC, making it the first company in the world to obtain such a certification for passenger-carrying eVTOL aircraft. This means that Ehang can now start commercial operations of its air taxis in China. As Ehang’s founder-chair and CEO Huazhi Hu said, “Embracing the certification as our springboard, we will launch commercial operations of the EH216-S air taxis, prioritizing safety above all.”
What are the potential applications of electric air taxis?
Ehang’s air taxis have a wide range of potential applications for urban air mobility (UAM), which uses aerial vehicles to provide transportation services in urban areas.
They can help you avoid traffic jams and save time on your commute. They can also take you to places that are hard to reach by car or public transportation. Whether you need to go to a business meeting, a tourist attraction or a hospital, Ehang’s air taxis can get you there quickly and conveniently. Ehang’s air taxis can also offer you a new perspective of the city with views of the skyline, landmarks and nature, all from above.
Beyond just transporting people, these aircraft can be used for delivering goods, such as packages, medical supplies or food. They can also be used for emergency situations, such as natural disasters or accidents. In those situations where time is of the essence, these vehicles could transport much-needed medical personnel or equipment to the scene quickly and safely.
What are the challenges for pilotless air taxis?
Ehang’s air taxis are a groundbreaking innovation that could revolutionize the future of transportation. However, they also face some challenges in terms of regulation, technology, market demand and social acceptance.
Ehang’s air taxis need to comply with the laws and regulations of different countries and regions where they might operate. They also need to coordinate with other aircraft that use the same airspace. Ehang has been working closely with regulators to establish standards and policies for UAM.
One big hurdle is working to gain social acceptance and trust from the public. The manufacturer needs to educate and inform us about the benefits and risks of UAM. It also needs to address the potential issues and concerns of noise, privacy and environmental impact. For its part, Ehang has been conducting public demonstrations and campaigns to raise awareness and confidence in UAM.