EHang has announced a strategic partnership with the helicopter service provider Shenzhen East General Aviation, aka Heli-Eastern, to implement urban air mobility (UAM) operations in China’s Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.
EHang, which is headquartered in Guangzhou, will contribute its autonomous aerial vehicles (AAVs) to a project that aims to demonstrate safe integrated operations of AAVs and helicopters in urban airspace. According to a press release, the partners plan to collaborate on development of a UAM operation management system while also exploring specific use cases, including aerial rescue and cargo transportation.
“As a national low-altitude reform pilot unit recognized by the CAAC [Civil Aviation Administration of China] and the Shenzhen Municipal Government, Heli-Eastern has joined hands with EHang to actively respond to and implement the ‘Guidelines of the National Comprehensive Transportation Network Plan’ issued by the State Council of China,” stated Heli-Eastern chairman Qi Zhao.
EHang said the partnership is an important milestone in implementing its 100 Air Mobility Routes Initiative in the Greater Bay Area. Announced earlier this year, that program aims to identify 100 meaningful UAM routes for trial flights, which will help the company gain operating data and experience as it pursues large-scale commercialization of its “passenger-grade” AAVs.
“Heli-Eastern is the first general aviation carrier to join EHang’s own AAV operation program, which is a key milestone in the urban air mobility industry,” stated EHang founder, chairman, and CEO Huazhi Hu. “We will leverage our strengths in both software and hardware technologies to partner with Heli-Eastern in continuing to nurture the ecosystem for urban air mobility operations.”
EHang’s flagship aircraft is the EH216, a two-seat multicopter that has already performed numerous passenger-carrying demonstration flights, including some initial demo flights with Heli-Eastern. During EHang’s most recent earnings call on Aug. 25, Hu said that the company expects the CAAC, which accepted EHang’s application for type certification in January 2021, to formulate a certification standard for the EH216 in the third quarter of this year. He predicted issuance of a type certificate within the next four to six months.
Such a timeline is unheard-of among Western aviation authorities, which typically require many years to certify passenger-carrying aircraft. It is not clear whether or how the EH216 will be certified outside of China, although EHang is participating in various other pilot projects in Europe and elsewhere.
Certification will enable EHang to begin charging for its passenger-carrying flights, which is critical to the company’s strategy of becoming a UAM platform operator, and not simply a manufacturer of vehicles. During the earnings call, in remarks translated by EHang chief strategy officer Edward Xu, Hu said that “the transition may lead to a potential decline in the short-term sales revenues,” but that EHang expects operations to “become our main pillar of revenue soon.”
As part of the 100 Air Mobility Routes Initiative, Xu said, the company has already screened and tested seven locations for AAV operations, mostly in South China. “We have targeted 15 self-run operation spots, including six in Guangdong and six in Eastern China. We are also planning to help our customers to launch operations in 21 spots, including 10 in Guangdong and four in Guangxi,” he added.
Jacob Dory contributed reporting to this article.