Autonomous eVTOL Maker EHang Says It’s on the Cusp of Type Certification

The Chinese firm wrapped up flight-testing for China’s Civil Aviation Administration and had its cloud software approved for trials.

For all of the FAA’s recent efforts to promote advanced air mobility (AAM) services in American airspace and chip away at China’s growing influence on the industry, the agency and U.S. lawmakers may be disappointed by a recent piece of news: A Chinese company appears set to obtain the world’s first electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) type certification.

EHang, a Guangzhou-based manufacturer of autonomous eVTOL aircraft for passenger transport and tourism services, announced it has completed all planned tests and flights of its EH216-S two-seater in the last phase of demonstrating compliance of its technology.

The flight test regimen included a definitive final demonstration for the Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC), which eliminated the last obstacle on the aircraft’s path to type certification, according to the company. EHang expects to obtain that approval “soon” after it wraps up a handful of final procedures.

“This achievement marks a significant, unprecedented milestone in the global emerging eVTOL industry, underscoring our unwavering dedication and pioneering advantages,” said Huazhi Hu, founder, chairman, and CEO of EHang. “Additionally, this sets the stage for us to secure the type certificate soon and proceed with our endeavors to initiate commercial operations.”

The CAAC also approved EHang’s Unmanned Aircraft Cloud System (UACS) for trial operations, representing another key step toward the entry into service Hu alluded to. The system is expected to be an important component of the company’s operations and will help customers orchestrate multiple aircraft, manage airspace and flight plans, and more.

The two announcements represent a blow to U.S. eVTOL firms and aviation regulators that are hoping to be the first to launch AAM services in 2025. EHang, however, is expected to enter service as early as this year or next, starting with China and Japan. 

The company currently ranks fifth on SMG Consulting’s AAM Reality Index, which measures an AAM manufacturer’s likelihood of certifying their aircraft, entering service, and producing thousands of units per year. It’s the top AAM company looking to serve the tourism industry.

Certifying the EH216-S

The next step for EHang will be obtaining type certification for its eVTOL, a small, wingless, fully autonomous design unlike most others in development. By and large, manufacturers, such as Archer Aviation and Lilium, are building larger, winged models to be flown by an onboard pilot.

EH216-S will carry two passengers at low altitude on short- and medium-haul routes. It has a 485-pound payload and an 18.5 sm (16 nm) range when fully loaded. The aircraft cruises at around 62 mph (54 knots) and can hit a top speed of 80 mph (69.5 knots), making it slower than most models expected to enter service.

A coaxial dual-propeller architecture makes the design light and reduces the space and structural components required to install propellers and motors. Its eight foldable arms house 18 lift-and-thrust rotors. Notably, it lacks fixed wings, a staple of most eVTOL models.

EHang’s three core design philosophies for EH216-S are full redundancy, an autonomous pilot, and a centralized command and control center. In addition to redundant batteries, the eVTOL includes backups for all major flight components, multiple flight control systems, and a built-in fail-safe system that allows a remote pilot to take over in case of emergency.

Though it’s capable of flying entirely on its own, EH216-S uses 4G and 5G wireless transmission to communicate with a command and control center. As mentioned, the center lets remote pilots step in as needed, but it also monitors and displays real-time flight data such as battery level, altitude, speed, and position. It centralizes the routing, dispatch, and management of multiple flight routes and aircraft flying simultaneously, giving operators a firm grip on their activities.

The CAAC officially accepted EHang’s type certification application for EH216-S in January 2021. Over the past 30-plus months, the company has completed over 9,300 low-altitude tourism flight trials in 18 Chinese cities, including the mega-metropolises of Guangzhou and Shenzhen. It also completed Japan’s first passenger-carrying flight of an autonomous eVTOL in February.

EHang has tested the aircraft’s load, durability, reliability, and environmental impact, flying it under low and high temperatures and in high humidity, salt spray, and even typhoon conditions. It also evaluated batteries, electronics, software, the data link to the ground control station, and other components to demonstrate they meet CAAC airworthiness and safety standards.

EH216-S’s recent demonstration before CAAC marked the final milestone before it can achieve type certification.

“I believe the remaining procedures will be finished very soon before the official authorization of the type certificate,” said Hu. “It will pave the way for our commercial operations in the next stage.”

UACS Approval Adds Momentum

Cloud software has become a critical safeguard for the secure and efficient operation of unmanned aircraft. Just about every eVTOL manufacturer has some form of this technology, and EHang is no exception.

The company’s UACS manages airspace, aircraft, and flight plans and operators, including “cluster management” for the safe operation of multiple aircraft in the same airspace. Now, a CAAC letter of approval for trials signifies it meets China’s civil aviation standards. According to EHang, the tech will be a key component of service following type certification.

“From unmanned aerial vehicle systems to the UACS, as well as operating teams and service platforms, EHang has made comprehensive and sufficient preparation for the upcoming commercial operations after years of planning,” said Hu. “With EHang’s long-term accumulated advantages, we are confident and well positioned to embark on a new chapter of UAM operations with our partners.”

Hu indicated that favorable CAAC rulemaking and an array of partnership with city governments position the company well to integrate and operate its services when the time comes. 

The most recent of those partnerships is an agreement with the Bao’an District Government of Shenzhen to jointly develop urban air mobility use cases and systems, as well as routes for low-altitude demonstrations. The Bao’an District will provide support for EH216-S procurement, financial leasing, infrastructure construction, and low-altitude operations in Shenzhen.

The ultimate goal of the partnership is to turn the metropolis into a “national low-altitude economy development demonstration city.” EHang plans to establish its first Operation Demonstration Center there and to eventually launch aerial tourism and sightseeing services with its eVTOL. The partners hope to develop more than 10 routes by year’s end.

If all goes according to plan, EHang will beat Archer, Joby Aviation, Wisk Aero, and other U.S. rivals to market—albeit outside of the U.S. and European markets. While that’s only part of the battle, the company appears well positioned to capitalize on its early entry. 

According to SMG, it had just over 1,400 EH216-S orders as of June—that’s more than every AAM manufacturer besides Embraer’s Eve Air Mobility and the U.K.’s Vertical Aerospace, which is now contending with a prototype accident that threatens to further delay certification.

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