AutoFlight Makes First Public Intercity Flight of Electric Air Taxi

The Chinese manufacturer said it was the first to achieve the milestone, flying about 31 miles between Shenzhen and Zhuhai.

China’s AutoFlight on Tuesday said it took an electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft where one had never been before.

The manufacturer claims to have completed the world’s first public electric air taxi demonstration between two cities, flying its Prosperity eVTOL across the Pearl River Delta between the Chinese cities of Shenzhen and Zhuhai. The flight—a journey that would take about three hours by car—lasted just 20 minutes.

AutoFlight’s five-seat air taxi—designed for a pilot plus up to four passengers—flew fully autonomous, with no onboard crew. The aircraft traveled through a complex environment home to 86 million and bordering several international airports, including Hong Kong International Airport (VHHH), Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport (ZGSZ), and Macau International Airport (VMMC).

Prosperity is thought to hold the record for the longest eVTOL flight, completing a 155 sm (135 nm) journey in February 2023 to eclipse the previous high-water mark held by Joby Aviation.

“We are thrilled to showcase AutoFlight’s cutting-edge capabilities [Tuesday] in the world’s first cross-sea and intercity eVTOL demonstration flight,” said Tian Yu, founder, CEO, and chairman of AutoFlight. “Working closely together with the local authorities and partners here, and in other jurisdictions around the world, we will continue to drive this revolution to bring safe, efficient, sustainable and affordable eVTOL flight options to cities around the world.”

The flight path between Shenzhen and Zhuhai is one of an estimated 100 eVTOL routes being developed by the local government to form China’s low-altitude economy, akin to the advanced air mobility (AAM) industry developing in the U.S. and elsewhere. 

AutoFlight said the strategy will eventually create hundreds of air taxi routes and thousands of vertiports in southern China’s Greater Bay Area, providing passenger transport, tourism, logistics, and emergency services. According to the firm, plans are in development to achieve 300,000 uncrewed cargo flights in the region per year.

AutoFlight’s Prosperity boasts an estimated 155 sm (135 nm) range and 124 mph (108 knots) cruise speed, with a maximum takeoff weight of about 4,400 pounds. It is designed for instrument and full weather operations.

Prosperity’s all-electric, zero-emission propulsion systems powers 10 lift and three push propellers, producing just 65 dBA of noise during hover—approximately the volume of laughter or normal conversation. This will allow the aircraft to blend in with typical city traffic, AutoFlight said.

The aircraft was designed by Frank Stephenson, who has developed automobile concepts for Ferrari, McLaren, Maserati, and others. Stephenson was also the former head of product design for Lilium, a German eVTOL manufacturer designing an electric jet for premium customers. Prosperity’s “spacious and ergonomic” interior, which features inflight information and entertainment, mirrors Stephenson’s work for other high-end brands.

AutoFlight expects to receive certification from the Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC) for crewed Prosperity passenger flights within the next two years. It also plans to perform crewed demonstrations at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, alongside other eVTOL manufacturers such as Volocopter. Working with Groupe ADP, which manages Paris international airports, the firm will install vertiport infrastructure at five sites in the region.

The manufacturer also intends to leverage its relationship with air transport operator Heli-Eastern, its partner in the Greater Bay Area. Heli-Eastern agreed to purchase 100 Prosperity aircraft, which it will fly on routes similar to the one demonstrated this week, as well as out of other regional transportation hubs.

“We warmly welcome our strong cooperation with Heli-Eastern, and together we are rapidly moving towards fully operational air-taxi routes all across the region,” Tian said.

While AutoFlight holds the record for the longest eVTOL flight, a Chinese competitor is the first in the industry to fly actual passengers.

EHang achieved the milestone in December after obtaining the world’s first eVTOL type certificate a few months prior, completing commercial demonstrations in Guangzhou and Hefei. The flights did not mark the official launch of routine service but represented a key step toward commercialization of the company’s self-flying air taxi.

According to CAAC, China will certify autonomous or remotely piloted eVTOLs before turning to aircraft with onboard pilots, which could similarly benefit AutoFlight. The company is also developing the CarryAll, an uncrewed cargo version of Prosperity with a payload of about 1,100 pounds and similar performance specifications.

According to comments from Mark Henning, managing director for AutoFlight Europe, the CarryAll is expected to obtain CAAC certification in 2024, with Prosperity following two to three years later. European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and FAA approval for Prosperity would come one to two years after that.

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