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First taxi rides in autonomous flying vehicles move a step closer after China approval

The EH216-S unmanned manned aircraft
The EH216-S unmanned manned aircraft Copyright Costfoto/CFOTO/Reuters
Copyright Costfoto/CFOTO/Reuters
By AFP
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Chinese startup EHang has received the world’s first airworthiness certificate for an autonomous flying taxi.

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Taking a trip across town in an autonomous flying taxi sounds like the sort of thing promised by science fiction, that always remains just out of reach in reality.

This may be about to change though, after China issued the world’s first certification for an autonomous electric flying cab.

The “type certificate” certifies the safety and airworthiness of an aircraft, and it was awarded by Chinese officials to Chinese startup EHang, which develops craft in the air mobility sector.

EHang now boasts the world’s first eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft) to be granted such a licence, and it could signal the potential imminent green light for the commercial operation of these types of machines in the country.

Upon receiving the certification, the company said it set a benchmark for airworthiness certifications for eVTOLS in China and beyond, as well as serving as an “epoch-making milestone for commercial UAM operations”.

The certificate was issued for the company’s EH216-S unmanned aircraft system, after it went through a validation process including extensive lab, ground, and flight tests at test sites across multiple locations in China.

They tested for structural strength, flame resistance, crashworthiness, gas toxicity, and software simulation amongst an array of other factors.

The two-seater electric vehicle flies thanks to a number of small rotors, and can reach a maximum range of around 30 km, with top design speeds of 130 km/hour.

Applying for a type certificate is a lengthy and costly process, but once the document has been obtained, it opens the way for the aircraft to be used by the general public.

"This model will undergo operational qualification examinations and will be officially put into commercial operation once it has met the requirements," the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). said.

"We hope to be the first in the world, in the short term, to launch commercial operation of autopilot eVTOLs," Hu Huazhi, founder and CEO of EHang, told AFP.

Considered one of the world leaders in urban air mobility, the company was founded in 2014 before going public on the Nasdaq stock exchange in 2019. It is based in the metropolis of Guangzhou in southern China.

In Europe, electric flying taxis are being readied for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris - but the authorities and regulators still need to get on board before that gets the go ahead.

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