EHang expects to receive Pilot Operations Rules (Interim) approval for an unnamed customer to operate the 216 AAV for logistics flights by the end of 2019.
EHang started flight testing the single-seat EHang 184 aircraft in 2016 as a prototype for its planned Autonomous Aerial Vehicle (AAV). It presented this aircraft at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in the U.S. In November 2018, the two-seat EHang 216 joined the flight test program and this appears to be the main focus of the company's efforts to get an aircraft into commercial service. In the same month, EHang announced a partnership with Austrian aerospace group FACC, which will provide support with research and development, the regulatory/certification process, and production. FACC is owned by government-backed Aviation Industries of China. The partners intend to open a flight test center in Austria. In April 2019, the Ehang 216 made its first public flight at an event in Vienna, Austria. Since then, the company has confirmed that it is also making a single-seat model designated as the 116.
In January 2019, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) announced that Ehang is one of five Chinese companies assisting in the development of "Guidance on UAV Airworthiness Certification Based on Operational Risk." This is intended to be complete by the end of 2019, creating a regulatory framework for aircraft including those carrying passengers. EHang is providing flight test data to CAAC in support of this work. EHang's Austrian partner FACC also is in discussion with European and Austrian authorities about type certification of the aircraft the regulation of passenger flights.
In February 2019, EHang filed an application with CAAC on behalf of a customer for permission to perform flights in support of its logistics business under the agency's Pilot Operations Rules (Interim) for Specific Unmanned Aircraft. This was subsequently granted.
According to EHang, the company is advancing certification work in accordance with the Specific Operational Risk Assessment (SORA) approach formulated by the Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems (JARUS). SORA is intended the industry's agreed foundation for airworthiness and operational approval for autonomous flight operations.
For now, EHang is manufacturing all AAVs in China but plans call for series production to be done under the auspices of FACC in Austria. EHang has acknowledged that FACC's extensive experience in research, design, development, certification, production, and support of aerospace products will be needed to bring the aircraft into full-scale commercial service. The company claims to have received more than 1,000 orders for the AAV, with customers coming from sectors such as tourism, transportation, and medical industries.
As of August 2019, EHang had not disclosed which companies are supplying key systems, such as motors, batteries, avionics and flight controls. It says that composite materials for the airframe are sourced in China. The plan for operations is that passengers would select their destination via an on-board tablet device. The AAV would perform the pre-set flight plan autonomously via a high-speed telecommunications connection to an EHang command and control center that would handle flight dispatch, monitoring, control, "pre-warning" and "cluster management" of the networked fleet of AAVs.
On August 6, 2019, EHang announced that it has chosen its home town Guangzhou as the location for its first “urban air mobility pilot city.” The company will work with Guangzhou government officials to develop a command-and-control center from which operations can be managed. EHang will support the southern Chinese city to develop ground infrastructure to support urban air mobility flights, including the design of safety regulations and market entry thresholds. It will use the pilot program to test flight routes and locations for so-called vertiports before launching commercial operations. The company already has been conducting trial operations carrying light freight with express delivery group DHL and food distribution company Yonghui. These flights are being conducted under a test certificate issued by CAAC. In Norway, an unnamed automobile distributor has acquired several of the AAVs and it is using them to test applications such as moving equipment and personnel to and from industrial facilities.
On August 20, the China Academy of Civil Aviation Science and Technology issued EHang with a Level II safety certificate to support the use of its 216 AAV and Falcon drones within an electronic "fence" developed to prevent unmanned aircraft from operating in restricted areas. On September 5, the company conducted a passenger-carrying demonstration flight with the 216 during the 2019 Northeast Asia Expo at Changchun in China's Jilin province.
In EHang's October 31, 2019, F1 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the company said that as of that date it had delivered 38 AAVs since March 2018 to various partners and prospective distributors. It reported "unfulfilled orders" for 28 more aircraft.
In December 2019, EHang raised around $46 million from an initial public offering (IPO) on the Nasdaq Global Market. The amount was less than half the $100 million projected when the company filed its IPO declaration with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on October 31. EHang, trading under the symbol EH, offered 3,200,000 American Depository Shares (ADSs) at $12.50 per share, which was at the lower end of the $12.50 to $14.50 anticipated in SEC filings made. At the IPO offer price, EHang had a fully diluted market capitalization of $687 million.
Derrick Xiong, co-founder and chief marketing officer, told FutureFlight that funds raised through the IPO will support research and development work around completing type certification and airworthiness approval for EHang’s 216 autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV). While not disclosing detailed projections for anticipated deliveries in 2020, Xiong indicated that production capacity could be ramped up to allow “double or triple” the rate of output.
Also in December 2019, EHang announced a partnership with Heli Chuangxin Real Estate Co. Ltd to jointly develop infrastructure to support urban air mobility operations in the Chinese city of Guangzhou. As part of a pilot program approved by Chinese authorities, the partners have identified sight-seeing flights as one of the early commercial applications for the two-seat EHang 216 autonomous aerial vehicle.
In January 2020, the Civil Aviation Administration of China confirmed that its new approval process of autonomous aircraft is ready to start receiving applications for type certification. EHang indicated in early February that it was about to begin this process. At that point, the company had already completed more than 2,000 test flights, some with passengers and some in winds of up to around 44 mph and in fog with visibility down to around 15 feet.
On March 5, 2020, the Civil Aviation Authority of Norway issued an operational flight permit for EHang's 216 aircraft. This will allow it to start flight testing in the Scandinavian country and the company intends to do this with a local customer. In its press release about the approval, EHang highlighted the potential for autonomous eVTOL aircraft to replace helicopters in supporting offshore energy facilities in the North Sea, although it did not confirm whether or not the test operations will be in this sector.
On August 14, 2020, EHang announced that it was preparing to start a "trial UAM operation" in the Austrian city of Linz. It gave no details as to the exact timing and scope of the flight trials, which will involve the 216 aircraft. The company's local subsidiary FACC will be involved in the work. The trial will start by establishing a test route over uninhabited parts of the city and identifying locations where vertiports could be built in 2021. EHang says it also will be looking to work to win public acceptance for eVTOL use from the local population, in part by defining public service roles for the aircraft.
Announcing financial results for the second quarter of 2020 on August 25, EHang's management team disclosed that the company is working on a longer-range eVTOL aircraft. It declined to provide any details of the design, beyond saying that it expects to be able to fly up to 100 km (62 miles), compared with just 35 km (22 miles) with the existing 216 AAV.
The lifting of Covid-19 restrictions in China has cleared the way for EHang to step up plans to develop new variants of the aircraft intended for applications such as fire fighting and logistics. The company has also moved to open up new markets, such as South Korea where in early November it demonstrated its 216 AAV aircraft to officials in the capital Seoul. It has also announced plans to work on a longer-range version of the eVTOL model.