EHang has completed its first public demonstration of an autonomous air taxi in North America. The flight, which took place Jan. 7, used the two-seater EHang 216, and was performed in front of 100 spectators in Raleigh, North Carolina, ahead of the 2020 North Carolina Transportation Summit.
“Flight started in North Carolina over 100 years ago,” said North Carolina Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon, whose agency hosted the demonstration. “So, it is appropriate the demonstration of this cutting-edge, disruptive technology takes place in North Carolina.”
The flight was performed in front of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol facility/aviation hangar in Raleigh, and marked the first time the EHang 216 has received flight approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The company said it is now working with the regulator to secure approval to fly the aircraft with passengers.
“Our mission is to make safe, autonomous, and eco-friendly air mobility accessible to everyone and this trial flight represents a significant step towards bringing our urban air mobility solutions to the U.S. market,” said Huazhi Hu, EHang’s founder, chairman, and CEO. “Pilotless air taxis have the power to transform everyday life in urban areas since they can lessen pollution, expedite emergency services, and save individuals and businesses time and money through shorter travel times.”
North Carolina has shown an enthusiasm for new technology in aviation. Last year, it launched a commercial drone delivery service, shipping medical samples and supplies at Raleigh’s WakeMed Hospital; while the N.C. Department of Transportation has won several awards for its groundbreaking use of drones in response and recovery efforts following Hurricane Florence.
North Carolina Governor, Roy Cooper, was among the spectators for the landmark flight of the EHang 216.
“We are proud to have the first autonomous aerial vehicle flying in North America, in North Carolina,” he said. “This technology and what it means for transportation, [of] both cargo and passengers, is pretty astronomical.”
Ehang has now completed over 2,000 trial flights in locations including China, Austria, the Netherlands, Qatar, and the United States. It has also begun the commercialization of its products, having delivered 38 units to customers as of December 2019.
In November 2019, two Ehang 216s completed simultaneous trial flights for commercial sightseeing operations in Guangzhou, China, as part of a joint initiative with the government of Guangzhou to be EHang’s first urban air mobility pilot city. EHang said the flights will help it test flight routes and vertiports.