Chinese EV Giants VS. Boeing in Flying Cars Race

China could soon become the first country in the world with flying taxis as part of Beijing's plan to develop what it calls the "low-altitude economy". For years, tech companies have been striving to get a commercial eVTOL service off the ground.
May 21, 2024
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The world’s first eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft) cross-sea and cross-city air route has made its inaugural flight, a milestone that was included for the first time in the State Council’s “Government Work Report.” Projects related to this development have been launched nationwide, causing related concept stocks to double or even triple in value. In 2024, the hottest topic in China’s industry is no longer AI large models but the “low-altitude economy.”

2024, The Low-Altitude Economy Rises

On November 21, 1783, in Paris, France, amidst the cheers of the citizens and the gaze of King Louis XVI, two brave French youths ascended 900 meters in a hot air balloon, crossing the Seine River, and safely landed. Since then, hot air balloon sightseeing has swept the world, marking the beginning of the low-altitude economy.
On February 27, 2024, in Shenzhen, China, with the lift-off of AutoFlight’s five-seat aircraft Shengshilong, the three-hour car journey from Shenzhen to Zhuhai was reduced to just 20 minutes. As a result, the industry has dubbed 2024 as the “inaugural year of the low-altitude economy” – a revolutionary emerging industry that utilizes eVTOL or unmanned aircraft as carriers to achieve advanced air mobility (AAM) at low altitudes. Commonly known as “flying cars.”
This development is both exciting and suspicious. Helicopters have been around for over a hundred years, with mature technology and sufficient production. So, why opt for eVTOL? Because helicopters are plagued by heavy pollution, loud noise, high costs, and poor safety. In the 1970s, after the Vietnam War, a large number of US military helicopters were decommissioned, flooding New York’s commuter market at low prices, and the white-collar workers thrived on this mode of transport. However, in 1977, a helicopter crash on the rooftop of New York’s MetLife Building abruptly halted the trend of helicopter commuting. Afterwards, New York’s aviation continued to operate helicopter routes for over 30 years, but these were limited to emergency travel for the wealthy and celebrities, as well as for sightseeing and medical emergencies.
Moreover, cost is a significant issue. In 2022, China also launched a helicopter route between Guangzhou and Shenzhen, but the cost was more than ten times that of ground transportation. The characteristics of eVTOL, however, are safety, quiet operation, and affordability. They do not need to fly long distances but can meet the needs for intra-city and inter-city commuting, effectively addressing the core pain points of helicopters. In 2009, the world’s first eVTOL company, Joby, was established in the United States, and by 2013, it had produced the first single-seat eVTOL prototype, the Monarch. Although the initial eVTOLs were not very reliable, they have matured significantly over a decade of iterations. They combine the safety of large aircraft, the convenience of helicopters, and the economy of electric vehicles, with clear advantages in zero emissions and minimal space needs. In terms of safety, eVTOLs use distributed power, and the failure of 1 to 4 propeller sets does not affect flight. They are much safer than single-propeller helicopters, and if equipped with autopilot and parachutes, they are even safer than cars and passenger planes. In terms of convenience, eVTOLs are compact and agile, requiring no airports or runways; with zero emissions and low noise, they can navigate between buildings, thus rooftops of office buildings and open spaces in residential areas can be converted into public helipads; exclusive private helipads might even become a new standard for luxury real estate. Economically, the operating cost of an eVTOL is 20% that of a helicopter, and the fare is twice that of a taxi, while the travel time is one-sixth to one-third that of ground transportation. Once scaled up, the costs could be even lower. Therefore, once eVTOLs are commercialized, they will revolutionize urban transport and even change the way humans live.

Fierce Global Competition

In the future, how long will it take to arrange an urgent heart transplant within a 200-kilometer range? Probably less than an hour. Patients will be transported via eVTOL; hearts can also be delivered by drones. What kind of impact will this low-altitude economy have?
Consulting firms such as Morgan, Deloitte, and Roland Berger predict that by 2030, the global market for flying cars will reach $300 billion (2.1 trillion yuan), by 2040 it will reach $1 trillion (7.2 trillion yuan), and by 2050 it will reach $9 trillion (65 trillion yuan). This is equivalent to half of China’s GDP (Note: China’s GDP in 2023 was 126.06 trillion yuan).
Such a vast scale and vigorous economy have swiftly triggered a low-altitude “arms race” among major countries. The United States was the first to act. In 2016, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued Regulation 107, establishing operational rules for commercial small unmanned aircraft, seen as the first step in regulating the low-altitude economy. Subsequently, the U.S. designed a series of top-level strategies for drones, such as easing regulations, standardizing registrations, and requiring certification for pilots; even the low-altitude management functions were partially separated from the FAA, replaced by a non-profit company operating under a franchise model. In short, the aim was to deregulate significantly to foster commercialization quickly. Amazon’s drone deliveries in 2021 and Joby’s trial of “air taxis” in 2023 both benefited from this. In 2021, Joby became the first eVTOL company to go public on the NYSE, sparking a wave of capitalization. A slew of eVTOL companies, including America’s Archer, Germany’s Lilium, the UK’s Vertical Aerospace, Brazil’s Eve, and China’s EHang, followed suit by listing in the U.S.
Not wanting to fall behind, Europe took action too. In 2019, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) was the first in the world to issue eVTOL regulations, establishing a regulatory framework tailored for eVTOLs. Germany’s Volocopter became the sole “lucky one,” not only obtaining EASA design and production approval but also passing the first EASA type certification.
At the 2024 Paris Olympics, Volocopter’s eVTOL will officially debut. For this, Paris has planned multiple routes, vowing to become the first city in the world to offer air taxi services.
As Europe and the U.S. race to advance, Japan is also strategically positioning itself. In July 2020, shortly after the U.S. military launched the “Agility Prime” initiative, Japan’s cabinet released the “Growth Strategy Follow-up Plan,” beginning to plan a national low-altitude economic strategy, setting timelines for safety standards development, aerial logistics services, and eVTOL trial operations. Soon, companies like Honda, Toyota, ANA, and Japan Airlines began to heavily invest in eVTOL. The policy’s effectiveness was immediately apparent. On February 17, 2023, Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism approved the first manned flight of a “flying car,” which was a resounding success and celebrated nationwide. However, the technology used by the Japanese was made in China. Unexpectedly, Japan’s accelerated deployment sparked China’s ambitions.

China’s Low-Altitude Economy

In November 2020, four months after Japan released its “Growth Strategy Follow-up Plan,” seeing other countries making rapid advancements in low-altitude sectors, the General Office of the State Council of China pointed out incisively. Domestic related strategic research is lagging, policies and regulations, and industry standards are still blank, and enterprises face difficulties in obtaining airworthiness approval, flight permits, and market launches.
This statement, pinpointing the issues, directly triggered a breakthrough: the Civil Aviation Administration of China quickly accepted the airworthiness certification application for EHang’s EH216-S.
Thus, the low-altitude economy entered the high-level vision and received strong support. In 2021, the “low-altitude economy” was written into the national-level plan “Outline of the National Comprehensive Three-dimensional Transportation Network Plan.” In 2022, following the release of eVTOL takeoff and landing site construction specifications by the US and Europe, China quickly followed up and released “Civil Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Development Roadmap V1.0 (Draft for Comments)” that year. In 2023, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and three other ministries jointly issued the “Outline for the Development of Green Aviation Manufacturing Industry (2023—2035),” proposing a timeline: by 2025, eVTOLs should be piloted; by 2035, new energy aircraft will become mainstream.
The most significant change has been very recent. At the end of 2023, the “low-altitude economy” was included in the Central Economic Work Conference and established as a strategic emerging industry; this year’s “Two Sessions,” the “low-altitude economy” was written into the State Council’s “Government Work Report” for the first time, positioned as a “new growth engine.” From ministry-level promotion to central advancement, the strategic status of the low-altitude economy has been greatly elevated. Entering 2024, the low-altitude economy continues to receive favorable policies. In March, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and three other ministries issued another “General Aviation Equipment Innovation Application Implementation Plan (2024—2030),” clearly proposing the commercialization process and goals. By 2027, new general aviation equipment will be commercially used in urban air transport, logistics distribution, emergency rescue, and other fields; by 2030, a trillion-level market scale will be formed; meanwhile, advancing the airworthiness certification of eVTOLs.
The explosion of the low-altitude economy is essentially confirmed. Even the most concerning issue of low-altitude flight law has been addressed. On January 1, 2024, the “Interim Regulations on the Flight Management of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” officially came into effect. This not only filled the regulatory gap for unmanned aerial vehicles but also clarified one point: in addition to the civil aviation, public security, industry and information technology, and market departments managing according to their responsibilities, the management of unmanned aerial vehicles within administrative regions falls under local governments. This represents a major shift. Regions across the country have responded strongly, eagerly competing for the new opportunities, new chains, and new formats of the “low-altitude economy”; to date, 27 provinces have explicitly made the low-altitude economy a key layout for the future.
Ambitious Shenzhen vows to build the premier “City of the Sky.” To this end, Shenzhen passed the nation’s first “Low-altitude Economy Industry Promotion Special Regulations,” completed the global maiden flight of ‘s Autoflight’s “Shengshilong”, and plans to build facilities, air connections, air routes, and services “four networks,” setting up more than 600 low-altitude takeoff and landing platforms, opening 220 city air routes, and planning a “digital blueprint” for the low-altitude economy.
Echoing the policies, whether it is industry foresight or technology manufacturing, this time, Chinese companies are also at the forefront of the world.

China’s Low-Altitude Economy Ready to Soar

During the Paris Olympics in July and August 2024. The “air taxi” created by Germany’s Volocopter will be the most stunning display at this grand event. But behind Volocopter, the Chinese financier Geely looms large. Geely, extremely obsessed with eVTOL, not only invested in Germany’s Volocopter but also acquired the American Terrafugia, and personally entered the field with “Aerofugia”. On December 29, 2023, Aerofugia’s AE200 successfully completed its test flight in Hanyuan, Sichuan. Its standard cabin can carry 5 people, with a maximum range of 300 kilometers, making it an ideal intercity flying tool.
Using eVTOL as a breakthrough, China has formed a formidable “New Flying Force.” Included in this layout are automotive manufacturers like GAC, XPeng, and Geely, as well as innovative companies like EHang, AutoFlight, and Vertaxi.
Their competitors are spread across the world. According to incomplete statistics, over 800 global companies have entered the eVTOL race. This includes aerospace manufacturers like Boeing, Airbus, and Embraer, as well as startups like America’s Joby, Archer, Alef Aeronautics, Germany’s Lilium, Volocopter, the UK’s Vertical, Brazil’s Eve, Slovakia’s AeroMobil, and the Netherlands’ PAL-Liberty.
This scene is reminiscent of the explosion of the new energy vehicle market. In this fierce competition, anyone has the chance to become the “Tesla of the low-altitude economy.” But the reality remains a tough barrier. Because everyone must overcome a significant hurdle—airworthiness certification. So-called “airworthiness certification” refers to a series of permits. In China, this means passing three stages: The first stage, if the aircraft design is approved for airworthiness standards, it can obtain a “Type Certificate” (TC);The second stage, if the aircraft meets the production capability of the approved type design, it can obtain a “Production Certificate” (PC);The third stage, each delivered aircraft must individually receive approval from the Civil Aviation Administration, indicating it can operate safely, known as the “Individual Airworthiness Certificate” (AC).
Only with TC, PC, and AC in hand is the airworthiness certification considered complete. Otherwise, it cannot be commercialized or sold. Even powerful players like Aerofugia’s AE200 and AutoFlight’s Shengshilong (V2000EM) have only received notices of acceptance for their TC applications, marking the first step in a long journey.
Global airworthiness is a matter taken very seriously. As the “darling” of the U.S. Air Force, to date, Joby has only obtained military airworthiness certificates and FAA special airworthiness certificates. As for when it will receive a civilian airworthiness certificate, Joby estimates it will be in 2025.
Conversely, China has taken the boldest step. On April 7, 2024, EHang suddenly announced: EH216-S has obtained the world’s first PC. Together with the previously obtained TC and AC, the EH216-S became the world’s first manned unmanned eVTOL with “all certificates in place,” leading the way into mass production. This has become a major milestone in the commercialization of global eVTOLs. In fact, the potential of China’s low-altitude economy extends far beyond eVTOL. Unmanned drone logistics and drone deliveries are also being extensively implemented. For instance, SF Express’s Fengyi Technology has commenced regular operations in Shenzhen, with national transport exceeding 800,000 sorties; Meituan has operated 22 drone routes in Shenzhen, Shanghai, and other places, completing 210,000 orders by November 2023.
Behind this, stand over 2,300 Chinese drone companies, producing 3.17 million drones annually, accounting for more than 70% of the global market share. For China, once the low-altitude economy explodes, it will not only be a burst in consumption and application but also a comprehensive explosion of the industry chain.
Looking at the low-altitude economy, upstream includes raw materials and core components, such as steel, aluminum, carbon fiber, and other aviation materials, as well as chips, batteries, motors, and other components; midstream covers the manufacturing of drones and eVTOLs, as well as sensing, monitoring, and command services; downstream extends to application scenarios, from urban transportation and takeaway logistics to leisure travel and industrial inspections, integrating comprehensively and ubiquitously.
Just eVTOL involves strategic emerging industries such as power batteries, automatic flight control, navigation monitoring, and satellite communications.
On this industry chain, which highly overlaps with electric vehicles, China not only has the most complete chain and the strongest production capacity but also leads comprehensively in technology. Once this strategic advantage explodes, it could surpass new energy vehicles to become the world’s most valuable industry chain.
This advantage is already evident. At the 2025 Osaka World Expo, the flying car scheduled for demonstration is precisely AutoFlight’s Shengshilong. It once set a global record for a single charge flight of 250.3 kilometers, its core module is 100% domestically produced, and its flight control avionics, triple-electric systems, and core components all possess independent intellectual property rights. The innovative company Vertaxi has also achieved “all domestic production” in three core areas: electric systems, flight control systems, and composite materials.
In the traditional aviation field, China has lagged behind for many years. However, in the low-altitude economy sector, not only do China, the US, and Europe stand as three strong competitors, but China has even started with an advantage, securing a series of strong positions.
Following the catch-up in the automotive industry with new energy vehicles, another industry blockbuster from China is on its way.


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