As a key player in Urban Air Mobilty (UAM) Guangzhou China-based EHang was the first company to announce that it had been working on an Autonomous Aerial Vehicle (AAV). The company did this in spectacular style in January 2016 when it unveiled its EHang 184 AAV at the influential Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in the US. As with many new programs working with new technologies, the EHang 184 served as a proof of concept for the company, and many of the lessons learnt made their way onto the EHang 216, which the company is hoping to bring to mass market soon.
Now, the company is working on the certifications that it needs to bring its Urban Air Mobility vision to life. Trial flights have been conducted in 42 cities across 8 countries, and EHang will continue to expand its footprint. Asian Sky Media caught up with EHang and asked about its vision of the future, government attitudes towards the rise of AAVs and eVTOLs, and when it believes that UAM will become widely adopted.
What role will eVTOLs play in UAM?
We believe that in the future, Urban Air Mobility (UAM) should cover two major parts: inter-city and intra-city.
We think eVTOLs are more suitable for inter-city travel, given their longer range and higher speeds. However, they may not fit for intra-city travel, which requires vehicles with smaller size and higher maneuverability. Thus, we believe our EH216 AAVs are more suitable for intra-city travel over highly populated areas as they can land easier on high-rise buildings. We expect a full UAM network to consist of both AAVs and eVTOLs, which will connect intra-city traffic seamlessly with inter-city traffic.
Moreover, we believe a centralized command-and-control platform is the key for UAM operations to ensure absolute safety, especially in urban areas with heavy traffic and dense populations. In our view, fixed point-to-point routes need to be predetermined, tested and monitored for UAM uses.
As global UAM leader, EHang is willing to cooperate with partners in designing and constructing a full eco-system for the implementation of UAM.
Which helicopter operations/missions are more, or less, likely to be replaced by eVTOLs in the near future?
We believe eVTOLs should possess the following key advantages over conventional helicopters: higher safety level guaranteed by power redundancy and full back-up systems; autonomous flight to save cost and further enhance safety and accuracy; lower noise levels; smaller size with higher maneuverability for urban use; and electrically powered with zero emissions.
Therefore, almost all aerial functions performed by helicopters could be replaced by eVTOLs. Currently, the only bottleneck we see for eVTOLs is limited range vs. helicopters. However, we believe further progress in battery technologies will ultimately solve this issue so that eVTOLs can completely replace helicopters in future.
What are the attitudes of different government bodies on eVTOLs?
Based on our extensive interactions with various government bodies, we have seen enthusiasm and supportive attitudes in general.
Take China for example, the General Office of the State Council of the PRC issued a circular in November 2020 proposing to accelerate the strategic development of Urban Air Mobility (UAM) in China. The circular aims to bring the development of UAM into China’s National Strategies and to formulate the relevant policies and standards to promote the healthy development of the industry. Such policies and standards, once made, are expected to lay a solid regulatory foundation that should pave the way for China to become the world’s largest UAM market.
Recently, bills introduced into both houses of the U.S. Congress would instruct the federal government to convene an interagency working group to study advanced air mobility (AAM) and coordinate a national strategy in support of new aviation technologies.
In 2020, both South Korea and Japan announced their plans to elevate UAM to national strategic status.
Which regions have the greatest potential for eVTOL growth?
We think potential market demand should be driven by several factors – urban population, affordability, and income levels. Metropolitan areas with high population density such as Hong Kong, London, New York, Shanghai, Tokyo, Singapore etc. are good potential markets given their high population density and high income levels. Moreover, residents on islands and mountains are also good potential users of eVTOLs.
According to research released by the United Nations in 2018, by 2050, 68% of the world’s population will reside in urban areas, up from 55% as of today.
Does EHang have any preliminary plans or projections on the implementation phase/timeline of UAM?
With extensive real flights taken in 42 cities and 8 countries by EHang in the past 3-4 years, we believe UAM will become a reality in the near future.
With the support from regulators and governments around the world, EHang will continue to accelerate regular operations of its intelligent AAV technologies for aerial logistics and provide customized solutions for clients from various sectors including logistics, retail, e-commerce and offshore oil and gas by helping them improve efficiency at lower costs.
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