‘Passenger drone’ cleared for mass production

The world’s first permit to mass produce pilot-less flying passenger vehicles has this week been issued by China’s Civil Aviation Administration, CCTV reported.

This is also the first production permit for an electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, it added.

Such aircraft can fly at low altitudes and have been dubbed “flying cars” or “electric planes”.

The permitted model can carry two people for 25 minutes, and its current price tag is RMB 2.39 million (about USD 330,000), IT Home revealed.

Many countries are researching, and even trialling, eVTOLs. In February, the world’s first cross-sea and cross-city eVTOL air route was tested in China, Securities Times has reported. The aircraft, which can carry five people, flew 55km from Shenzhen to Zhuhai, in Guangdong province; it then landed and flew back again, with each leg taking 20 minutes, the Securities Times added. The manufacturing company says the aircraft can fly as far as 250km

In October 2023, the government issued its Outline for Developing the Green Aviation Manufacturing Industry. The document indicates that “sustainable aviation fuel, electric aircraft, and hydrogen aviation are the three key directions of green aviation,” Beijing News reported. In the next 5-10 years, small, short-distance eVTOL and other electric aircraft will have many application opportunities in urban low-altitude shipping, it added.

However, Time Weekly reported that even if an eVTOL obtains the necessary certificates, local civil aviation authorities still need to set take-off and landing points and routes. This means it is early days for personal commercial use such as “air taxis”.

NewLink Research Institute, a corporate thinktank, has found that, when it comes to long-distance flights in medium and large aircraft, it is more realistic to reduce emissions using sustainable aviation fuel than electric batteries.

Read China Dialogue’s analysis on the development of sustainable aviation fuels in China.