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Autonomous helicopter taxi makes first test flight over Jerusalem

The trial was made possible by a 60 million shekel ($15.7 million) project known as the Israel National Drone Initiative.

Ehang's EH216-S, a Chinese-made drone, one of several tested as part fo the Israel National Drone Initiative, June 5, 2023. Photo by Mark Nomdar/B.Y. Creative & Productions.
Ehang's EH216-S, a Chinese-made drone, one of several tested as part fo the Israel National Drone Initiative, June 5, 2023. Photo by Mark Nomdar/B.Y. Creative & Productions.

An autonomous helicopter taxi made its first 30-minute test flight over Jerusalem as part of an Israeli-government-led initiative to reduce traffic jams on the country’s roads, the Israel Innovation Authority announced on Wednesday.

The Chinese-made eVTOL autonomous electric two-seater took off from the capital’s Hadassah-Ein Kerem Medical Center and flew over the city’s hills before landing back at the hospital grounds.

The EH216 aircraft can fly approximately 18 miles (30 kilometers) while carrying a payload of up to 551 pounds (250 kilograms). The test flight was closely monitored by control centers and emergency-response teams on the ground.

The trial was made possible by a 60 million shekel ($15.7 million) project known as the Israel National Drone Initiative, a public-private partnership led by the Ministry of Transport, National Infrastructure and Road Safety; the Israel Innovation Authority; Ayalon Highways Ltd.; and the Civil Aviation Authority.

“What we’re looking at here is how Israel’s National Drone Initiative is expanding its scope to move beyond transporting packages to transporting human beings,” said Daniella Partem, senior director at the Israel Innovation Authority. “We are looking to improve the economic viability of this model and advance connectivity in urban areas and further afield around the world.”

Under the auspices of the National Drone Initiative, 11 private technology companies have been involved in tests and experimental flights throughout the Jewish state. In the past three years, some 19,000 sorties have been conducted in rural and urban areas, the initiative announced in June.

“What we’re actually doing is a concept of operation that makes taxi drones or delivery drones—big ones—to bring them to the hospital with all the utilities that you need, and also to take it from here to the houses around Jerusalem,” Cando CEO Yoeli Or told Reuters.

“This is a new concept that actually brings us innovation, saves time, saves money, and it’s green,” he added.

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