The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

China's Aviation Regulator Establishes Unmanned Aviation Zones

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) this week confirmed that it has established the first in a series of Unmanned Civil Aviation Experimental Zones (UCAEZs) to encourage the development of autonomous aircraft and applications such as urban air mobility (UAM). The initial set of UCAEZs cover 13 cities across China: Beijing, Shanghai, Hezhou, Hangzhou, Zigong, Anyang, Nanjing, Tianjin, Yulin, Shenyang, Dongying, Anqing, and Ganzhou.

The development was announced on October 28 by Chinese eVTOL aircraft developer EHang, which stands to be one of the main beneficiaries of the move. With CAAC approval, the company has been conducting trial operations with its two-seat 216 Autonomous Aerial Vehicle in several locations including Hezhou, Yulin, and Tianjin.

In May 2020, CAAC issued a document called "Guidance on the Construction of Unmanned Civil Aviation Experimental Zones." This provided the basis for Chinese companies to establish “convenient channels” in the zones for airworthiness, operation, air traffic control, and “business licensing.” The agency has worked closely with EHang in particular, apparently granting the company exceptional latitude to develop its eVTOL aircraft family.

EHang has been delivering early examples of the 216 aircraft even before type certification is complete, taking advantage of opportunities for these to be demonstrated by early customers on a trial basis. In addition to air taxi services, the company envisages several other applications for the 216, including emergency medical support, logistics, firefighting, and sightseeing.

In July, EHang announced plans to expand its production facilities for eVTOL aircraft, which are located at Yunfu in Guangdong province. It has already established a trial operation for eVTOL operations with a command-and-control center in its home city of Guangzhou.