The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

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. 

Timeline

Missed Projection

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.

investment

The company indicated that it hopes to raise up to around $100 million from an IPO before the end of 2019.

test flight

First test flight of EHang's 216 Autonomous Aerial Vehicle

EHang Holdings Limited was established as an offshore company registered in the Cayman Islands. However, the company is effectively based in China.

Outlook

Our objective assessment of this program’s probable success.

FutureFlight assesses the probability of success for a new aircraft program by considering the following criteria:

  • Total investment funds available in proportion to the anticipated cost of getting an aircraft certified and in service
  • A company’s in-house capability (in terms of numbers of engineers, technical staff, and customer support teams)
  • The past experience of the company and its senior leadership in developing aircraft
  • The caliber and past experience of key program partners
  • Whether key aircraft systems have been selected and are available for use
  • Whether the preliminary design review has been completed
  • Whether the design for the full-scale prototype has been completed
  • Whether the type certification process has been formally initiated with an appropriate regulator
  • Whether the company has achieved a first flight with a full-scale prototype
  • The number of hours logged in a flight test program
  • Whether type certification has been achieved
  • The number of orders and commitment received for the aircraft
  • Whether the company has adequate facilities to begin series production of the aircraft
Our Methodology

At face value, Chinese group EHang appears to be a well-supported technology group with an established track record in developing unmanned aerial vehicles (mainly light drones for consumer and commercial applications). Co-founder and chief marketing officer Derrick Xiong told FutureFlight that the company has a "very healthy financial situation" with income coming from early AAV deliveries, managing more than 200 drone swarm light shows for advertising campaigns in China and urban air mobility consultancy for the central Asian state of Azerbaijan and the Chinese city of Guangzhou. The company claims to have received more than 1,000 orders for its AAVs, but, given that neither aircraft has completed type certification, it is unclear whether money has actually changed hands for any or all of these transactions. EHang insists that it has enough funding internally to complete development of the aircraft, while adding that it remains open to new partnership and investment proposals.

In April 2019, EHang stated that its Austrian partner will be ready to start series production from 2020, while providing very little evidence for how it intends to reach this ambitious goal or how far it has progressed with flight testing of either model. Both EHang and FACC are supposedly in discussions with their respective national aviation authorities about the envisaged certification process. However, given that flight testing of the main EHang 216 model only started in November 2018, it is hard to see how the program could make such rapid progress to series production by 2020.

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 ability to complete airworthiness approval under the auspices of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) will also be critical if the EHang AAVs are to have any commercial success outside the Chinese market. Perhaps significantly, EHang appears not to have engaged with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) over plans to certify its aircraft in the U.S. In theory, certification could be covered by EASA's reciprocal arrangements with the FAA, but it remains to be seen whether this would be straightforward for aircraft designed to be operated autonomously.

Another question mark hangs over the 2018 bankruptcy protection filing by EHang's U.S. subsidiary. At the time, EHang CFO Richard Liu said that the company would seek to raise fresh funding in response to the situation. EHang's financial backers reportedly include U.S.-based venture capital group GGV Capital, agricultural technology investment group GP Capital and China-based seed funding group Zhenfund. In August, 2019, EHang said that the company currently has no U.S. "branch office" and that it would be "inconvenient" to reveal further information about its investment support. In the wake of the U.S. bankruptcy declaration, EHang reportedly cancelled plans for an IPO that it hoped would raise between $400 million and $500 million. It has raised at least $52 million from a couple of earlier venture capital investment rounds.

The Nasdaq IPO in December 2019 was a partial success, raising around $46 million in new capital---about half the target amount. EHang has said it intends to raise further funds "when timing is optimal."

The company appears to be sufficiently well funded to complete the formal type certification process with Chinese authorities, although it remains hard to say how long this will take. It has benefitted from exceptional cooperation from the Civil Aviation Administration of China, which has given EHang's management team free rein to expand trial operations in multiple locations well ahead of the certification process being completed. The company appears to be having a highly influential role in the development of certification and operating rules for eVTOL aircraft. 

EHang Autonomous Aerial Vehicle Models

EHang 116 Specifications

autonomous vtol Multicopter

Performance

  • Passenger Capacity
    1
  • Range
    19 mi
  • Cruise Speed
    81 mph
  • Powerplant Type
    multi rotor
  • Power Source
    electric
  • Endurance
    19 min
  • Max Altitude
    9,843 ft
  • Takeoff Distance
    n/a
  • Landing Distance
    n/a
  • Empty Weight
    n/a
  • MGTOW
    n/a
  • Payload Weight
    309 lb

Dimensions

  • Length
    17 ft
  • Width
    17 ft
  • Height
    6 ft
  • Wingspan
    n/a

The single seat EHang 116 model evolved from EHang's 184 prototype.

Investors

Total Amount Invested: $68.06m

Key Personnel

Derrick Xiong
Derrick Xiong

Chief Marketing Officer, Founder

Huazhi Hu is founder, chairman and CEO of EHang.
Huazhi Hu

Founder, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

Edward Xu is chief marketing officer of EHang.
Huaxing (Edward) Xu

Chief Strategy Officer