Aerial passenger drone startup EHang flew its EHang 216 two-seat self-flying taxi fully autonomously in North Carolina last night, a first for the company both in the U.S. and North America. EHang, which is based in Guangzhou, China, has already demonstrated its vehicle in flight at home and in different parts of Europe and Asia, but this is the first time its aircraft has received approval to fly by the FAA, and EHang is now working toward extending that approval to flying with passengers on board, which is a key requirement for EHang’s eventual goals of offering commercial service in the U.S.
This demonstration flight, which took place in Raleigh, included flying North Carolina governor Roy Cooper on board the two-seat aircraft. Eventually, EHang hopes to deploy these for use across a number of different industries, for transportation of both passengers and cargo along autonomous, short-distance routes in and around urban areas.
EHang had a busy 2019, too — the company began trading publicly on the Nasdaq in December. It also revealed plans to begin operating an aerial shuttle service in Guangzhou, with a pilot citywide drone taxi service intended to show off not only its individual autonomous vehicle capabilities, but also how it can deploy and operate multiple EHang aircraft working in concert with one another and with other aircraft sharing the air space over the city.
Toward the end of 2019, EHang actually completed two trial flights of its 216 vehicles flying simultaneously as an early step toward building out that pilot. The company has delivered around 40 of its aircraft to paying customers, too, and if all goes to plan, by next month it will have completed a pilot program with the Civil Aviation Administration of China that will allow it to move on to full approval of the airworthiness of its aircraft for commercial flight in the country.