EHang received an 'operational flight permit' from Norway's Civil Aviation Authority, allowing it to conduct long-term flight testing in the country. (EHang)
Chinese autonomous aerial vehicle maker EHang has obtained an ‘operational flight permit’ from the Civil Aviation Authority of Norway for its two-seat EHang 216 — its first such approval in Europe.
The permit allows EHang to “conduct flights together with a local customer for the purpose of testing and certification,” according to the company’s press release, with flights beginning at Salangen Airport in Elvenes.
“The autonomous passenger aircrafts of the future can contribute to more efficient transport, particularly in urban areas, and the electric models are a great contribution to the green shift, said Bente Heggedal, Norway CAA’s head of unmanned aviation. “We look forward to EHang demonstrating a well-proven and secure system, so that passenger AAVs can be a safe alternative for passenger transport.”
"Systematic flight testing that challenges the systems operational limits will give some answers with regards to this," a representative for CAA told Avionics. "Good safety record over time in actual real-life diverse operational environments may prove the system to be 'well proven and secure.' This, in a combination with operational limitations based on the testing program and technical assessment, will give us a foundation for permits also in the future."
Norway's CAA believes Norway’s geographic conditions — an abundance of sparsely-populated areas and free airspace, with a network of small airports — could be well-suited for the testing of unmanned aircraft, according to EHang’. Early applications of the EHang 216 are expected to include package deliveries and slingload operations, the agency told Avionics.
"We plan to fly a few kilometers at Elvenes without any passengers since this first flight permit from CAA Norway is without passengers as a start, but will soon be including passengers for non-commercial test flights," a representative for EHang told Avionics International in an email.
EHang has pursued several partnerships in Europe, including with network provider Vodafone — which will exclusively provide connectivity for all EHang vehicles in Europe through its SIM cards — and Austria-based manufacturer FACC, which will help bring its aircraft to production.
The company is taking an unmanned, networked approach to its eVTOL aircraft development, seeking to provide simultaneous control of many aircraft with a command-and-control center operating constantly.
According to the Vertical Flight Society’s eVTOL database, the EHang 216 can reach speeds up to 81 mph, carry two passengers and has a max range of 22 miles. The 216 reportedly needs 120 minutes to recharge its batteries, according to Paul Ridden of the New Atlas.
In announcing its permit from Norway’s CAA, EHang noted the significance of offshore drilling platforms to Norway’s economy and the amount of transportation work, currently fulfilled by medium and large helicopters, that supports the sector — suggesting its unmanned aircraft may provide a better solution.
“In the new wave of the development of the oil industry in Norway, EHang expects to empower the O&G industry with our AAV technologies to reduce costs and increase efficiencies, and promote the use of green energy,” said HuHuazhi, founder and chairman of EHang.
However, the EHang 216’s maximum range, reported at 22 miles — before taking into account the chilling effects of cold environments on battery life — is likely not sufficient to transport people or supplies to most oil rigs in the North Sea, which are often located more than a hundred miles offshore. Therefore, EHang intends for its aircraft to be used to transport people "between platforms which is much shorter distances," a representative for EHang told Avionics.
Most eVTOL aircraft developers, such as those partnered with Uber Elevate, are focused on short, inner-city hops, and there is are technological limitations driving that: current battery storage densities render all-electric aircraft incapable of achieving the maximum gross takeoff weight and range necessary to perform missions like transportation from land to offshore oil rigs.
It will likely be decades before an all-electric aircraft will match the performance of the Airbus H225 or Sikorsky S-92, with the latter capable of carrying 19 passengers over 600 nautical miles.
This article has been updated with comments from Norway's Civil Aviation Authority.