Reports from across the world show that autonomous flying taxis are slowly gaining momentum. An Austrian aerospace company and its Chinese partner EHang unveiled their pilot-less “flying taxi” for the first time in Europe on Thursday. Joining the race for new autonomous aircraft services that do not require runways, EHang entered a strategic partnership with Austria’s FACC, owned by Chinese aerospace group AVIC, last year. Their aim is to offer short-haul services for passengers, industrial equipment and urgent medical deliveries.
With 16 propellers humming loudly the drone rose above the pitch at Vienna’s Generali Arena, home to soccer club Austria Wien during the demo. The slim plane, which weighs 340 kg (750 pounds), circled in the air and landed back within a few minutes. The EHang 216, as it has been named is a two-seater Autonomous Aero vehicle (AAV) said Derril Xiong co-founder of Ehang. It is electric powered with maximum speed up to 150 km per hour (90 mph) can remain airborne for almost half an hour at a time. Xiong also told Reuters that the drone has been tested comprehensively and is essentially ready for mass production, with only regulatory approvals awaited for production to commence in 2020.
FACC Chief Executive Officer Robert Machtlinger said, “It can travel between 50 and 70 kilometres depending on the payload.” Having trialled the drone himself Machtlinger described to reporters the ease with which an app based booking and smooth landing and take-off will save time for the passengers and help avoid the stress of a traffic congested commute besides providing a lovely bird’s eye view of the city.
The passenger cabin is compact, with leg room that taller passengers might find less-than adequate, an Austrian photographer and demo flight participant told Reuters. The FACC claims it has received several thousand orders for the £250,000 drone, with the highest demand from China.
“Technically… urban mobility, flying without a pilot is possible, it’s not a dream, it’s existing,” said Machtlinger adding, “what is hindering us to go into larger volumes is regulation.” He further said that a futuristic legal framework for autonomous flying vehicles should regulate communication with other planes and helicopters and provide traffic rules.
Declaring Austrian support for international efforts to establish the necessary regulation soon, their transport minister Norbert Hofer said “I hope that Austria will be the place where thousands of these drones, of these air taxis will be built and I hope that very soon we will see a lot of these air taxis in the air.”
Competitors working toward offering autonomous flying cars early in the next decade range from aerospace giant Airbus to Uber, and AeroMobil. In the non-autonomous segment of flying vehicles the Royal Jordanian Air Force has already launched their flying taxi services for quick commute across Amman. In collaboration with Golden Eagle Aviation Academy this flying taxi service is run by retired air force veterans and engineers. The ride of 15 minutes time costs $77.50 per person.