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An electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) air taxi this week completed the first passenger-carrying eVTOL flight outside China.

Chinese eVTOL manufacturer EHang on Monday said its self-flying EH216-S completed an inaugural passenger-carrying demonstration flight in the Middle East, marking just the second time such an aircraft has flown human passengers. EHang’s EH216-F for high-rise firefighting and EH216-L for aerial logistics—which together with the company’s autonomous air taxi comprise the EH family of aircraft—also made debut flights in the region.

The landmark flights, approved by the United Arab Emirates’ General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), took place at the Emirates Falcons Aviation Club in Abu Dhabi, in the presence of government officials, civil aviation authorities, and even members of the Emirati royal families.

The EH216-S completed the world’s first passenger-carrying eVTOL demonstration in China in December, the same month EHang committed to a UAE expansion. The air taxi is the first of its kind to obtain type, airworthiness, and production certification—which together are considered essential for the launch of commercial eVTOL operations—from a civil aviation authority.

In the U.S., Archer Aviation, Joby Aviation, and other eVTOL manufacturers are pursuing type certification with the FAA, but none have achieved the milestone so far.

“After securing the approval for passenger-carrying demo flights and conducting the debut flight, we will actively foster collaboration and communication between the GCAA and the Civil Aviation Administration of China [CAAC] to expedite the progress towards commercial flights of our pilotless aircraft in the UAE,” said Huazhi Hu, founder, CEO, and chairman of EHang.

The passenger for EH216-S’s maiden voyage in the Middle East was Mohamed Al Dhaheri, a board member of Multi Level Group (MLG), a fintech conglomerate serving the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

“Being part of this historic moment is truly exhilarating,” said Al Dhaheri. “The seamless integration of technology and aviation represents a significant leap forward for our nation, and as an Emirati, I am proud to be a part of it.”

EHang, MLG, and the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO)—the central government authority supporting private sector growth in the Emirate—last month signed a trilateral agreement to incorporate the manufacturer’s aircraft into the UAE’s transportation system at the inaugural DriftX, a two-day conference and showcase in Abu Dhabi.

DriftX was sponsored by both ADIO and Abu Dhabi’s Smart and Autonomous Vehicle Industry (SAVI) cluster, a collection of government-supported, state-of-the-art facilities and services within the city dedicated to developing new technologies in air, land, and sea transportation. The event was attended by many high-ranking Emirati officials and royals, including from the ruling Al Nahyan family.

Present on the show floor were aircraft developed by EHang, Archer, Joby, and other manufacturers that have announced plans to fly in the UAE, which is rapidly becoming a hot spot for eVTOL air taxis and other novel aircraft designs. EHang completed several uncrewed demonstration flights at the event, including the debut overseas flight of its long-range VT-30, which is expected to complement the EH216-S’s intracity operations with city-to-city routes.

Like Archer, the Chinese manufacturer is aiming to set up a regional headquarters in Abu Dhabi with the assistance of the ADIO. It will pursue local partners to assist in manufacturing, flight operations, research and development, training and maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) services.

“ADIO continues to work with leading global players to accelerate the adoption of smart and autonomous vehicles across air, land and sea,” said Badr Al-Olama, director general of the ADIO. “Our collaboration with Multi Level Group, and air mobility leaders such as EHang, will play a key role in driving Abu Dhabi’s efforts in promoting eVTOLs.”

On Monday, EHang said it is “actively engaged in the design and establishment of eVTOL vertiports, in swift preparation for launching commercial UAM routes.”

MLG, which specializes in digital transformation and developing emerging technologies, is a subsidiary of EIH Ethmar International Holding, the Abu Dhabi royal-led investment holding company that also owns EHang partner Wings Logistics Hub.

EHang and Wings in December signed a long-term strategic partnership focused on eVTOL certification and operations, marking the Chinese manufacturer’s entry into the Middle East. Wings also agreed to purchase up to 100 EH series aircraft, several of which were on display at DriftX with the company’s branding.

Archer has similar arrangements with operators Falcon Aviation and Air Chateau, while Joby intends to operate its own aircraft.

Several of EHang’s EH series aircraft, with Wings Logistics Hub branding, were on display at DriftX in Abu Dhabi. [Courtesy: EHang]

EHang in December also became a member of Abu Dhabi’s SAVI cluster, joining fellow eVTOL air taxi manufacturers Archer and Joby. In addition to research and development facilities, the company says SAVI will provide it access to “existing infrastructure within Abu Dhabi for testing and certification, large scale workshops, hangars, and manufacturing facilities,” it says.

SAVI and other UAE government initiatives, such as the Integrated Transport Center (ITC) within the Emirate of Abu Dhabi’s Department of Municipalities and Transport, are part of a massive push by the country to become the leader in advanced air mobility (AAM) tech.

Abdulla Al Marzouqi, director general of the ITC, told FLYING at DriftX that the UAE’s financial and investment ecosystem, clear environmental policies, and existing and planned infrastructure, such as vertiports, are key factors that make the region a prime market for AAM.

Beyond eVTOL air taxis, the country is also looking to introduce novel designs such as electric seagliders and electric short takeoff and landing (eSTOL) aircraft.

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