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Lunar New Year tourists feast with new drone deliveries

By Huang Zhiling and Peng Chao in Chengdu | | Updated: 2024-02-19 19:59
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A tourist visiting Pengzhou city in Sichuan province uses a drone delivery service to buy food during the Spring Festival. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Tourists visiting Pengzhou, a city in Southwest China's Sichuan province, were surprised to find a drone delivery service available during this year's Spring Festival holiday.

A tourist surnamed Wang camping in the town of Bailu in Pengzhou, opened an app and ordered some hotpot ingredients. Within approximately 10 minutes, a drone from the nearby town of Tongji delivered the ingredients to her campsite.

The drone delivery service launched on the first day of the Lunar New Year, which fell on Feb 10, as a joint project from Chengdu Civil UAV Experimental Base and Sichuan Songba Logistics Technology.

Zhou Xiaoming, chairman of Sichuan Xiangpeng Intelligent Aviation Technology, which is the operator of the Chengdu Civil UAV Experimental Base, said the delivery service covers five homestays and campsites in Tongji, Bailu, and Danjingshan towns in Pengzhou.

"These three towns are popular tourist areas in Pengzhou, but they are located in mountainous areas, and the scenic spots are scattered, making it inconvenient for tourists to buy food and ingredients," he said, adding that drones are an excellent solution to this problem.

The service uses six drones of the same model, each capable of carrying a payload of 5 kilograms and flying up to 10 kilometers, Zhou said.

In addition to hot pot ingredients, consumers can order coffee and snacks online from partnered merchants, he added.

"This business became so popular that it has exceeded our expectations," Zhou said. He and his colleagues had to give up their vacations to complete the 451 orders they received during the eight-day Spring Festival holiday.

Liu Hanlin, a local hot pot restaurant merchant, said the drone delivery service is quite innovative and has helped expand sales channels. During the holiday, his restaurant sold nearly 100 orders.

"The delivery fee for each order is 20 yuan ($2.8), which is acceptable," he said.

As China gradually opens up its low-altitude airspace for personal use, Zhou believes the low-altitude economy will usher in a broader development prospect.

"The successful trial operation during the Spring Festival has given us great confidence. Next, we plan to open more routes to connect more scenic spots," he said.

Zhou said he is in talks with partners to open a new route at the Danjing Mountain scenic area in Pengzhou, allowing hikers to enjoy a steaming cup of coffee at the mountaintop.

Zhang Xiannian, deputy director of Pengzhou's investment promotion bureau, said the Chengdu Civil UAV Experimental Base is one of the 20 State-level civil UAV experimental bases. It hosts 95 UAV companies conducting test flights.

"As a test site integrating mountains, rivers, forests, fields, and lakes, the base can meet almost all testing scenarios for UAVs," he said.

Zhang said that Pengzhou aims to establish a sustainable and commercially viable development path for drones, and food delivery in the mountainous and river valley tourism areas is highly likely to be one of the sustainable scenarios.

He said Pengzhou is also exploring using drones for government services, bridging the last mile of administrative services in mountainous and hilly areas.

You Pengwei, head of logistics and industrial at JLL West China, believes drone delivery services will be more widely applied in short-distance delivery scenarios as it significantly improves delivery efficiency, saves operational costs, and reduces environmental pollution.

"Some international e-commerce giants have already implemented drone delivery services for certain users in Europe and America. Meanwhile, in the domestic market, Alibaba, JD and SF Express are also actively exploring and testing drone delivery services," he said.

Zhang Chunqi contributed to the story.

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