EHang has confirmed it will launch a new line of winged eVTOL aircraft called the VT series, as it simultaneously pursues certification of its EH216 multicopter and evolves its business to become an urban air mobility (UAM) platform operator.
The VT series will include a 700-kilogram (1,540-pound) “passenger-grade” model called the VT30, as well as smaller VT10 and VT20 versions not intended for passenger use. EHang indicated that the aircraft will have a “hybrid” lift-plus-cruise design, making it simpler than competing tiltrotor models.
Speaking during EHang’s fourth quarter and full year 2020 earnings call on April 16, EHang chief strategy officer Edward Xu, translating for CEO Huazhi Hu, said that the VT30 will have a range of more than 300 kilometers (185 miles), complementing the shorter range of its flagship EH216. The company plans to perform trial flights of the VT30 in the near future, and will share more details and technical specifications at a later date.
According to Hu, images shared online purporting to show a new EHang aircraft with a 400-km (250-mile) range actually depict a transition product, the VT25. Meanwhile, he said, the smaller VT20 is now a “mature product” that has entered small-batch production. Capable of speeds between 30 and 120 km/h (18 to 75 mph) and with an endurance of more than three hours, the VT20 will be used to survey flight routes for future fully autonomous VT30 flights, making it an “indispensable product in the future UAM infrastructure planning process.”
Meanwhile, the company continues to advance development of its EH216 autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV). EHang announced that the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has established a type certification team for the EH216, with a kickoff meeting taking place in Guangzhou, China, on April 13-14. EHang said it officially submitted a type certificate application to the CAAC in December 2020, which was accepted by the agency in January 2021.
During the April 16 earnings call, Xu declined to speculate as to when the EH216 might achieve certification, but said the company hopes to share certain milestones in the certification process in the next six to 12 months. EHang will also be launching a manually piloted version of the AAV called the EH216M, which it expects to be granted a special airworthiness certificate in the experimental category from the CAAC in May of this year.
“The EHang 216M [has] similar control systems as a traditional helicopter but simpler and more reliable, and it can switch to autopilot mode with one click for all-around safety protection,” explained Xu, still translating for Hu. He said that the company plans to establish a “flight experience park” that will allow customers to fly the aircraft with envelope protections including an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) “fence” that will keep them within certain boundaries.
However, EHang’s primary focus going forward will be on gradually transitioning into a UAM operator as well as a manufacturer of eVTOL aircraft, Hu said. In the process, it expects to divest business lines that are less relevant to UAM, including aerial media and smart city management (enterprise drone solutions).
To further this transition, the company will be launching a “100 Air Mobility Routes” initiative in China that will identify 100 meaningful UAM routes for trial flights, with an initial focus on the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. “By accumulating more operating data and experiences, we will be more prepared to launch larger scale commercialization activities,” said Xu, noting that EHang has already performed more than 10,000 flights of its EH216 models.
To support the 100 routes initiative while fulfilling customer orders, EHang plans to produce 250 units of the EH216 this year, which would be a new record for the company. The company reported sales of 70 units in 2020, compared with 61 units in 2019. Fourth quarter revenues were $8.4 million, for full year 2020 revenues of $27.6 million.
Full financial results are available on the EHang website.