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Chengdu goes extra mile in UAV sector

By HUANG ZHILING and PENG CHAO in Chengdu | China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-13 09:33
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Chengdu-based Aerofugia's AE200 demonstrator carries out its test flight in December 2023. CHINA DAILY

When a drone carrying a square, orange-colored box landed steadily on a small platform, a staff member opened it to hand over a cup of steaming hot coffee to Xu Wei, a visitor to the ongoing International Horticultural Exhibition 2024 Chengdu.

"This is so cool! It's like stepping into a futuristic world," Xu said.

All she had to do was to scan a QR code at a delivery point and place the coffee order, and it was delivered to her by drone within 10 minutes.

Drone deliveries of foods and beverages are a new consumer scenario introduced at the expo's main venue in Chengdu Eastern New Area. Local authorities said they plan to open six drone delivery routes and set up 12 delivery points at the 242-hectare main venue during the 186-day event, to meet the consumption needs of a large number of visitors.

The drone delivery service in the main venue will offer more application scenarios such as remote shopping, emergency medical aid, and quick lost-and-found retrieval, the authorities said.

As China gradually opens up its low-altitude airspace for civilian use, Chengdu in Southwest China's Sichuan province is devoted to fostering the development of its drone industry and cultivating the low-altitude economy, local officials said.

Leveraging the achievements made in the pilot program for low-altitude airspace, as well as its advantages in the general aviation and industrial drone sector, Chengdu is building itself up into a low-altitude economic hub in western China, according to the city's government work report for 2024.

Fei Lan, marketing director of Aerofugia, a Chengdu-based tech company specializing in low-altitude transportation and smart industry solutions, said the development of the low-altitude economy has gained strong momentum since it was identified as one of the strategic emerging industries by the Central Economic Work Conference in December.

Aerofugia is dedicated to developing intercity commuting capacity of up to 200 kilometers and urban air mobility capacity of up to 30 km. The company completed the maiden flight of its AE200 electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft for airworthiness certification at the end of last year.

"With the enhanced policy support and continuous rise in market demand, Chengdu's eVTOL industry is expected to see rapid growth and serve as a new growth engine for regional economic development," she said.

Fei said Aerofugia is strengthening cooperation with its partners to accelerate the commercial application of eVTOLs and contribute to the formation of a low-altitude transportation ecosystem.

The company signed a strategic cooperation agreement with CITIC Offshore Helicopter Co Ltd in April to strengthen collaboration in low-altitude transportation, aerial sightseeing and emergency rescue. The two sides will gradually implement low-altitude economic application scenarios in regional centers such as Chengdu, and jointly explore the commercial operation of the scenarios, according to the agreement.

Aerofugia also signed an agreement in July 2023 with Sino Jet, one of the largest business jet operators in the Asia-Pacific region, to provide 100 AE200 aircraft. After the AE200's airworthiness certification is completed, executive air travel service using the aircraft is expected to debut in Chengdu, Fei said.

Ren Bin, founder and CEO of JOUAV, a leading industrial UAV manufacturer based in Chengdu, said the city has comparative advantages in developing the low-altitude economy, as it pushes ahead its pilot program for low-altitude airspace, and cultivates a complete industrial chain.

Chengdu has also been actively cooperating with universities and research institutions to promote talent and technological innovation in the low-altitude economy sector, he added.

Statistics from the city's economic and information technology bureau show that Chengdu is already home to more than 100 enterprises in the industrial drone sector. In recent years, the output value of Chengdu's industrial drone sector has maintained an average annual growth rate of more than 20 percent.

Ren said JOUAV provides products and services to more than 1,500 clients across 40 countries. Of late, it has been exploring new models for intelligent drone applications, and has developed a series of industrial solutions.

Last year, JOUAV finished construction of its new manufacturing base in Chengdu. It has a maximum annual capacity of 3,700 units of standard models and enables efficient and cost-effective production of various types and large quantities of UAVs.

"The new facility allows us to be fully prepared for the future development of the industry and to deliver products to our clients on a large scale," Ren said.

To further boost the high-quality development of its industrial drone sector, Chengdu's economic and information technology bureau and finance bureau jointly issued 10 special policies in October 2023. The detailed implementation rules of the special policies were released on April 28.

Enterprises and institutions that develop new drone models and achieve sales, as well as those that establish flight test bases and provide flight test services to drone manufacturers, can receive a maximum reward of 3 million yuan ($413,580), according to the policies.

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