Chinese air-taxi company EHang has announced a partnership with the City of Hezhou in Guangxi Province to build "the world’s first AAV E-port" – a terminal for its autonomous aerial vehicles.
The three-storey terminal will have a 2,500 sq m footprint, with a reception hall on the first floor, a waiting area on the second and a departure and arrival zone on the third.
The two-passenger air taxis will land on and take off from four pads on the roof.
The service will be aimed at helping tourists get around the southeastern region’s tourist attractions, many of them associated with hot springs, mountains and lakes. If all goes to plan, the taxis should be operating by the end of the year.
EHang founder Hu Huazhi said: "Hezhou is a beautiful city with rich tourism resources and we are excited to enhance their appeal with our AAVs. As we progress, we intend to create more commercial applications for EHang AAVs, such as aerial sightseeing that can uniquely merge modern culture and tourism. We also welcome more local partners to join us."
If this port is a success, it is likely that many more will follow. At the end of last year, EHang received approval from regulators to launch an air taxi service in nearby Guangzhou. The company is presently setting up an air traffic control centre to oversee its operations.
Three of EHang’s two-person passenger drones taking off simultaneously (EHang)
In November, Ehang, which builds the passenger drones, filed paperwork with the US Securities and Exchange Commission to go public on Nasdaq with a $100m offering, and is preparing to launch the world’s first autonomous air taxi service in the coming months.
The service will be provided by the 216 model (pictured), which has eight arms and 16 rotors and can carry two passengers. It has a top speed of 130km/h but maximum flight time is limited to 21 minutes per charge, so its trips will be short ones.
The company, which made a first half loss of about $5m last year, faces stiff competition in the market for passenger drones and their associated infrastructure, which has been developing rapidly since 2014, the year EHang was founded. Â
Dubai has long harboured ambitions to begin a drone taxi service, and last year UK-based aerospace firm Skyports and German aircraft maker Volocopter announced plans to begin building air taxi terminals, beginning in Singapore (see further reading).
Top image: Ehang’s rendering of its AAV port