EHang Keeps Making Firsts

EF Global VTOL

22 Mar 2023


After last issue’s feature story on EHang, the company made a series of announcements that show that it continues its innovations and advances as a global player in the urban air mobility market.

EHang has been developing a human-passenger electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft along with drones for many years (see “How EHang Build an eVTOL for the World,” Vertiflite, July/Aug 2020). Few aviation startups are poised to take advantage of manned and unmanned urban air mobility (UAM) as EHang. Even fewer tackle UAM internationally as much as the Chinese eVTOL developer has with its autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV). After years of quiet incubation in China away from the Western hype, the company is continuing to extend its footprint by finding new roles its AAV can serve.

Autonomous EHang 216 Shows Aerial Sightseeing
EHang also shows that its 216 AAV can take on many roles, including that of sightseeing. According to a press release on July 14, an EHang 216 took four passengers (individually) for aerial sightseeing trips over the sea in Yantai, a coastal city in eastern China, with first-hand-experience passengers relating “a steady pace with almost no turbulence.” These trial flights are part of an international demonstration to show the reliability and versatility of the company’s AAVs. EHang hopes to demonstrate its commercial use cases with passenger transportation, aerial sightseeing, air logistics, medical emergency response, and much more.

Ehang Gets an OK From Transport Canada
EHang also received a special flight operations certificate from the Canadian authority for regular trial flights. With its Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) from Transport Canada Civil Aviation (TCCA), the 216 is set for regular trial flights of passenger-grade flights in the Québec province — a first in North America. Last September, EHang showed off its 216 AAV at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)’s 75th anniversary ceremony in Québec.

“We are delighted the 216 has received such an important certificate from TCCA, following consecutive flight approvals from other aviation authorities in different countries,” EHang Founder, Chairman and CEO Huazhi Hu said in a June 29 press release. “It conveys a positive signal from global regulators to establish a supportive and sustainable regulatory environment for the UAM industry. As an industry leader, EHang will continue to work with our customers and partners to provide safe, autonomous and eco-friendly air mobility solutions for the world.”

EHang announced at the end of July that it would build a new AAV production facility in Yunfu city in Guangdong, China with a planned initial annual capacity of 600 aircraft. (EHang concept art

Ehang Plans for 600 AAVs a Year
To meet the anticipated demand for its successful foray, EHang announced on July 30 the construction of a new production facility in Yunfu City, Guangdong, China, with a planned initial annual capacity of 600 AAVs. The new facility will cost RMB42 million (around $6M) supported by the local government.

Hu said, “The increasing market demands and commercialization of AAVs in China are driving us to expand our production and upgrade our manufacturing capabilities. The EHang Yunfu facility serves as an expansion of our existing facility and will support the growth of our air mobility business in China.”

The EHang 216F Is a Firefighting Machine
A new firefighting version of EHang’s 216 AAV, the model 216F, was announced on July 31. It is designed to reach high-rise building fires with up to 150 liters (40 US gallons) of firefighting foam. It can also carry six fire extinguisher bombs on each trip. Using the company’s advanced guidance systems, the 216F targets urban fires within a 5-km (3.1-mile) radius.

The EHang AAV 216F was recently unveiled in Yunfu, China. It was designed to reach fires higher than traditional fire ladders and faster than hoses can by deployed up stairs. The 216F AAV targets dense urban environments by skipping congested traffic below that slows down traditional firefighters. In this scenario, large helicopters don’t make sense as they typically cost tens of millions of dollars to acquire and maintain, and aren’t typically used for building fires. The EHang 216F by comparison costs only hundreds of thousands of dollars.

According Hu, “The high-rise fire use case highlights the practical application of our passenger-grade AAV platform to different smart city management needs. The potential of our intelligent AAV technology platform is boundless. We will explore and develop more aerial solutions and use cases to empower smart cities.”

The EHang 216F has been tested for fast arrival high-rise firefighting applications. (EHang photo)

Co-Founder Leaves EHang
In a surprising move, EHang co-founder Derrick Xiong resigned and left the company. He was the company’s former chief marketing officer and director, and was the subject of the article in the last issue of Vertiflite. Xiong explained that the departure was purely due to “personal reasons.”

He is replaced by a new regionalized marketing management team to lead the promotion of its AAVs. Edward Xu is now the chief strategy officer and will lead marketing activities outside of Europe. Andreas Perotti will oversee activities within Europe in his position as chief marketing officer of EHang Europe. Both have extensive experience in the aviation industry.

Xu was heading the Asia Transportation Research at Morgan Stanley Asia Limited. He was in charge of aviation, transportation, and logistics during his 15-year career as an equity research analyst. Perotti brings more than a decade of international aviation marketing and communications experience with senior marketing roles in the aviation industry, government, and telecom sectors, including the European Parliament, Telekom Austria Group, FACC AG, and more.

EHang demonstrated aerial sightseeing trips over the sea in east China during a mild rainfall. (EHang video capture)

After a successful initial public offering (IPO) on the US Nasdaq stock exchange last December, EHang’s stock closed on the Nasdaq in late July at a record low of $7.70. A barrage of news releases in the subsequent days may have helped return the stock price to closer to its initial public offering price of $12.50 a share.

The EHang 216 demonstrates how the company is continuously finding new ways to adapt its eVTOL platforms for practical applications. EHang says it is focused on developing its international team after its whirlwind aviation authority successes.