In a landmark moment for urban passenger mobility, Chinese authorities have green-lit the world’s first flying taxi.
Designed and manufactured in Guangdong province, southeast China, the EH216-S uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) loosely resembles a scaled-up hobbyist drone.
Passengers sit in a car-sized protective bubble above the UAV’s propulsion and lift system of 16 powerful rotors mounted in pairs to the tips of eight arms.
EHangs Holding, one of China’s foremost innovators of vertical take-off and landing vehicles and UAVs, recently announced it received certification from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) for its EH216-S passenger carrying UAV.
The battery-powered “taxi” can reach a top speed of just under 100 kilometres per hour and stay airborne for 25 minutes before depleting its power unit, according to a Bloomberg report.
At a 2020 demonstration event in Raleigh, North Carolina, EHang representatives said the autonomous drone could carry between 225-270 kilograms of cargo or passengers per trip but did not specify how much each journey would cost.
The vehicle and its airworthiness certification are the product of more than three years of research and development, according to the science and technology website, Interesting Engineering.
EHang’s urban air taxi spent hundreds of hours at ground-based aviation laboratories and test sites across the country, where everything from the vehicle’s material performance, structural integrity, flame resistance, gas toxicity, crashworthiness, software and electronic systems were extensively evaluated.
After an incredible 45 000 test flights and 500 tests over 65 categories, authorities at the CAAC were satisfied with the UAV’s ability to keep its passengers airborne and granted it type certification.
Passenger safety is one of the core values of the company and receiving CAAC certification is a massive achievement for the brand, setting a benchmark for others to follow in what is a very young industry, said Hu Huazhi, EHang Founder and CEO.
While EHang has positioned itself early to become a top player in the urban air mobility sector, other brands are in hot pursuit. Boeing-backed company, Wisk, revealed its four-seater flying taxi back in 2022. Gaining certification from the US-based Federal Aviation Administration remains elusive, however, with Wisk only expecting to enter production in 2024.
The flying taxi market has no shortage of investors, however. The market is expected to reach a staggering $1 trillion by the end of the decade and $9 trillion by 2050, according to Interesting Engineering.