As the maxim says, “Whether you think you can, or you can’t, you’re right.”
Flying Taxis are Taking Off
“Technically…urban mobility, flying without a pilot is possible, it’s not a dream, it’s existing,” says Robert Machtlinger, CEO of FACC.
Austrian Aerospace company FACC (Future Advanced Composite Components, owned by the Chinese Aerospace group AVIC), and its Chinese partner EHang revealed this month in Vienna the EHang 216. This is a pilotless flying taxi with two passenger seats, weighing 340 kilograms and loudly humming because of its 16 propellers.
The EHang 216 – currently priced at EUR 300,000 – features a small cabin and less than adequate leg room for tall people according to one lucky participant who took a demonstration flight. EHang 216 can fly up to 150 kilometers per hour for close to 30 minutes, “and can travel between 50 to 70 kilometers depending on the payload” says FACC CEO Robert Machtlinger.
Derrick Xiong, co-founder of Chinese drone maker EHang, said that after comprehensive testing the EHang 216 is ready for mass production. FACC’s strategic partnership with EHang aims at entering the runway-free autonomous aircraft services market and providing short-haul flights for public passengers, urgent medical deliveries and delivering industrial equipment.
FACC has already received several thousand orders with most of the demand coming from China. The main obstacle for expanding the volume of production is the present lack of regulation in place that would cover both communication between the EHang 216 and other planes or helicopters on the runway and in the air.
Austria is currently supporting global efforts to remedy this issue, said Transport Minister Norbert Hofer, who went on to state that, “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”.
Market competition will come from the likes of Airbus, Uber and AeroMobil who are all focusing on providing autonomous flying cars over the next decade.