The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) today issued a type certificate for EHang’s EH216-S two-seat eVTOL aircraft, clearing the way for commercial passenger-carrying flights to begin in China. The approval announced early on Friday makes the two-seat model the first eVTOL vehicle in the world to be cleared for commercial use. The achievement is especially remarkable given that EHang’s aircraft will operate autonomously with no pilot on board.
According to Guangzhou-based EHang, it has completed the entire process since January 2021 when CAAC accepted its application for type certification, with the so-called “special conditions” covering the new category of aircraft having been published in February 2022. The Chinese regulator has given the start-up a high degree of latitude in permitting it to conduct extensive flight testing in multiple locations, including public demonstrations with passengers on board.
In an October 13 press release, EHang explained that the validation process for the EH216-S, “scrutinized components, equipment, and the entire aircraft for prefabricated defects, faults, and interferences.” It said that the process has encompassed more than 500 specific test items and 40,000 test flights resulting in adjustments and formal conformity assessments covering 65 “major categories” and 450 individual test items.
EHang will now be increasing production rates at its Yunfu factory and stepping up deliveries to operators in China. It has not yet said where and when the first commercial passenger flights will begin with the EH216-S, but it has already begun deliveries to domestic customers including Shenzhen Boling Holding Group.
The company intends to produce variants of the model that could be used for applications including firefighting. It is also working on a larger, four-seat VT-30 aircraft that would have a longer range than the EH216-S, which is limited to 35 km (22 miles).
“I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the CAAC, the expert team, and all EHang employees for their unwavering dedication,” commented the company’s founder, chairman, and CEO Huazhi Hu. “Our self-developed EH216-S passenger carrying UAV [uncrewed air vehicle] system has finally met the high expectation to secure the first type certificate in the global eVTOL industry, marking a significant chapter in aviation history.”
Hu indicated that EHang itself now intends to commercial operations that could include air taxi and sightseeing flights. “This will enable us to steadily progress towards our strategic goal to be an urban air mobility platform operator, and commit to our mission to enable safe, autonomous, and eco-friendly air mobility accessible to everyone,” he concluded.
EHang has previously reported multiple provisional orders for the EH216-S from customers outside China. The company has yet to say how and when it intends to secure type certification in other jurisdictions, including dominant regulators such as the FAA and EASA.
No other air safety agency in the world has yet confirmed a regulatory path to approving commercial, passenger-carrying flights in an eVTOL aircraft. The earliest anticipated type certification outside China is in Europe where Volocopter aims to get approval for its two-seat, piloted VoloCity vehicle in time for the 2024 Olympic Games next Summer in Paris. In the U.S., leading eVTOL developers Joby and Archer currently aim to achieve type certification in 2025.
On Friday morning, trading in EHang shares was due to resume on New York's Nasdaq market. On October 9, the company suspended trading in anticipation of what it said would be a "significant development" by the end of this week.