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World’s first autonomous inter-city air taxi takes flight in China

28 February 2024

Chinese eVTOL specialist AutoFlight has successfully completed what it calls the first inter-city electric air taxi flight, completing what would usually be a three-hour journey in just 20 minutes.

Image: AutoFlight
Image: AutoFlight

AutoFlight’s five-seater Prosperity eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) aircraft completed a significant milestone by autonomously flying the 50km (31 miles) route from Shenzhen to Zhuhai. 

The flight from Shenzhen to Zhuhai across the Pearl River Delta took just 20 minutes, a journey that would require three hours by car. 

According to the company, this achievement marks the world’s first public flight of an eVTOL aircraft on a cross-sea and inter-city route, spanning across the bay where the Pearl River meets the sea, connecting the two southern Chinese cities of Shenzhen and Zhuhai.

This flight marks a significant milestone in the development and road to certification of this exciting new form of mobility. The route between Shenzhen and Zhuhai is part of the future air traffic scenario planned by the regional government as it develops its “low-altitude economy” strategy that will see the opening of thousands of vertiports and hundreds of eVTOL air routes across the Greater Bay Area in southern China. 

Low-altitude application scenarios will include passenger transport, tourism, logistics and emergency services. In the short term, plans are in development to achieve 300,000 cargo UAV flights in this region per year.

Tian Yu, founder, CEO and Co-Chairman of AutoFlight said: “We are thrilled to showcase AutoFlight’s cutting-edge capabilities today in the world’s first cross-sea and inter-city eVTOL demonstration flight. 

“Working closely together with the local authorities and partners here, and in other jurisdictions around the world, we will continue to drive this revolution to bring safe, efficient, sustainable and affordable eVTOL flight options to cities around the world.”

AutoFlight’s partner in the region Heli-Eastern, a major low-altitude general aviation carrier and helicopter service provider, recently entered an agreement with AutoFlight to purchase 100 Prosperity passenger eVTOL aircraft. 

The aircraft will be used on routes such as the one demonstrated by AutoFlight, from Shekou Ferry Port in Shenzhen to the Jiuzhou Ferry Port in Zhuhai, as well as from other transportation hubs in the region.

Tian continued: “We warmly welcome our strong cooperation with Heli-Eastern and together we are rapidly moving towards fully operational air taxi routes all across the region,” he said.

The demonstration flight took place in one of the world’s most densely populated areas, home to around 86 million people, and in an airspace that borders multiple international airports, including Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Macau. 

The flight showcased AutoFlight’s zero-emission aviation technology in a highly complex environment, and its dedication to safety and regulatory compliance in pushing the boundaries of urban air mobility.

The demonstration flight was uncrewed and fully autonomous, with certification for crewed passenger flights anticipated within approximately two years. 

Referred to as air taxis, eVTOLs do not require traditional airports or runways. Similar to helicopters, they take off vertically and transition into fixed-wing flight mode in the air, cruising at high speeds like traditional large aircraft. 

The aircraft delivers an electric-powered, safe, comfortable, sustainable and affordable performance at significantly lower noise levels than traditional aircraft.


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