Plans to integrate drones into Shenzhen airspace

Guangzhou, CHINA – If anybody needed convincing about the place of drone technology in the world, the recent efforts by major economies to find ways of integrating autonomous aerial vehicles in their already busy airspaces should say enough.

While the European Union is just about entering the business phase of its several projects to create safe airways dedicated to drones in major cities, the Shenzhen Municipal Government in China has just signed a partnership agreement to revamp its low altitude aviation so it reflects the reality of drone technology in our lives.

As announced by drone manufacturer and services platform, EHang Holdings – which is also part of the European drone integration projects – the partnership in Shenzhen comprises the municipal government, the drone company, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) and Shenzhen East General Aviation (Heli-Eastern), a major low-altitude manned aviation carrier and helicopter service provider in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area in China.  

“The ground-breaking partnership will explore and further implement urban air mobility (UAM) operations in the designated integrated airspace for helicopters and AAVs in Shenzhen, China,” EHang said in a statement. “This is an important milestone in implementing EHang’s 100 Air Mobility Routes Initiative in the Greater Bay Area.

“EHang and Heli-Eastern have joined hands in taking the initiative to build the pilot project focusing on integrated airspace for UAM operations in the Greater Bay Area, responding to the Guidelines of the National Comprehensive Transportation Network Plan issued by the State Council of China in February 2021.

“The in-depth cooperation aims to form a holistic strategic partnership in the application of innovative AAVs and operational models in the aviation industry, such as developing low-altitude UAM operation management system and exploring specific UAM use cases, including aerial emergency rescue for ground transportation and aerial cargo transportation over the highway network.”

Demonstration flights were made at Heli-Eastern’s helicopter base in Shenzhen, as a proof of concept on how manned and unmanned aviation can co-exist safely in the same airspace. EHang brought two of its E-216 passenger-grade drones to share the same airspace with Heli-Eastern’s Bell 206 helicopter, in a demonstration that went smoothly.

But then, it would have to go smoothly, wouldn’t it; because this was a controlled demonstration under a controlled environment. Integrated flights in real life would be a little trickier to negotiate, which is why more work has been scheduled in China, as it has in the European Union.

“As a national low-altitude reform pilot unit recognised by the CAAC and the Shenzhen Municipal Government, Heli-Eastern has joined hands with EHang to actively respond to and implement the Guidelines of the National Comprehensive Transportation Network Plan issued by the State Council of China,” said the company’s chairperson, Qi Zhao. “We will jointly establish a pilot project for the urban integrated airspace of helicopters and AAVs and build a low-altitude UAM operation management system to promote the pioneering applications of passenger-grade AAVs and the low-altitude flight network in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.”

Zhao’s counterpart at EHang, Huazhi Hu, was equally upbeat about the prospects of a single sky project the parties have embarked on.

“We are very pleased to cooperate with Heli-Eastern to set the benchmark in integrated airspace applications,” Hu said. “Heli-Eastern is the first general aviation carrier to join EHang’s own AAV operation program, which is a key milestone in the urban air mobility industry.

“This is not only an important step in EHang’s 100 Air Mobility Routes Initiative, but also signifies EHang’s entry into Shenzhen with our passenger-grade EHang 216 AAVs and a new chapter in our AAV trial operations. We will leverage our strengths in both software and hardware technologies to partner with HELI-EASTERN in continuing to nurture the eco-system for urban air mobility operations.”


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