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First drone delivery license issued

By Chai Hua in Shenzhen | China Daily | Updated: 2018-03-29 07:55
Leading courier SF Express displays its drone at an information technology exhibition. [Photo by Xu Congjun/for China Daily]

Chinese logistics companies are speeding up competition in drone deliveries as China issued the first operating (pilot) license for commercial drone deliveries.

The East China Regional Administration of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) on Tuesday granted the license to a subsidiary of China's leading courier SF Express in Jiangxi province.

It allows the Shenzhen-based company to conduct commercial operation of drone deliveries in approved airspace nationwide. SF Express will initially continue the business in a pilot zone in Nankang district of Ganzhou, a city in Jiangxi province, where it has been testing drone deliveries since June 2017.

The next step is to expand the operation across the whole province and even nationally, said Tian Min, head of technology at SF Express.

"The issuing of the license means that China has entered a new stage of drone transportation and it is also an integration of traditional air freight with drones," said Wang Zhiqing, deputy director of the CAAC.

JD, China's second-largest e-commerce player, is also ramping up its efforts in drone logistics. On Monday, it formally opened a drone delivery station in Hainan province. In February, the CAAC approved JD's experimental drone deliveries in a pilot zone in Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province.

Cainiao Network Technology Co Ltd, the logistics affiliate of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, demonstrated its drone transportation ambition with an eye-catching show, flying fresh tea leaves with unmanned crafts from a mountain next to Hangzhou's West Lake to a tea processing center in less than two minutes.

One of their aims of developing unmanned aerial vehicle logistics is to complete their network, but more importantly they are competing for air transportation capacity, said Wang Xia, secretary-general of the General Aviation Branch of China Air Transport Association.

She estimated last-mile deliveries by drones could be linked with main and branch logistics lines so that a universal system of airplane, data, airspace and landing areas could be established.

As there are so far no clear rules for conducting drone-related business, some delivery companies without any certificates can also fly drones, but the situation is expected to change as the nation is actively exploring rules and regulations in the sector.

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