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Snapshot of lives on the ground and in the clouds

By Fan Feifei | China Daily | Updated: 2017-10-26 08:24

Mei Songwu, 30, who received training at DJI UTC's school in Wuhan, is now running his own company, which uses drones to spray agricultural crops. [Photo provided to China Daily]

It has become an academy for aspiring "pilots" that never leave the ground.

The unmanned aerial systems training center, or UTC, rolled out by DJI Innovation Technology Co in Wuhan, has literally changed lives.

Mei Songwu, 30, is now running his own company, which uses drones to spray agricultural crops.

Before he enrolled at the center, he was selling pesticides and agricultural machinery.

"My life has really changed," Mei said.

By chance, he heard that unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, could be used for crop spraying.

Since he had always been fascinated by drones, he decided to learn how to operate, or pilot, one by taking a course last year at DJI's center in the provincial capital of Hubei.

The two-week program involved theoretical knowledge about agricultural drones and flight operations, and cost 6,500 yuan ($981).

After graduation, Mei started his own company, Wuhan Changfei Plant Protection Machinery Operation Co, in 2016 with just a handful of staff.

"I bought six agricultural drones," he said. "Each one can spray 400 mu (26.7 hectares) of rice fields each day."

Business is so good he plans to expand the company's workforce to 30 employees and buy four new drones by the end of the year.

While Mei declined to disclose detailed financial figures about the company and how much he earns, he did reveal that his income has more than doubled.

"The UTC's Wuhan school has provided me with an excellent platform," he said. "I can enjoy preferential treatment when I buy drones and I also received policy support when starting my business.

"More and more drones are being used for crop spraying in the agricultural sector in a move to promote modern techniques," Mei added. "I am bullish about future prospects."

His upbeat vision of the UAV industry is not unique. Being a drone pilot also brought career-changing opportunities for Peng Tiantian, 25, who now runs the Tianjian Cultural Experience Center, a commercial photographic agency.

She was always interested in taking pictures but wanted to learn new skills about aerial photography.

"When I arrived at the UTC's Shenzhen Nanshan branch, a poster caught my attention. It read: 'Half price for female students'," she recalled.

Peng attended a four-day training session during two weekends, which cost her 1,400 yuan.

"What impressed me most was that it was a fun-based learning process," she said.

"We were offered the chance to communicate with and learn from people who share the same interests," Peng added.

The training process also involved an extensive series of countermeasures when faced with "accidental situations", as well as practical experience.

At first, Peng used to turn on the "sport mode" when taking photographies using a UAV. But she quickly realized after training courses this was a high risk strategy.

"There was also one time when I almost crashed my drone into the water due to lack of experience," she said. "But you don't make those sort of mistakes after training."

Peng stressed that the course has changed her lifestyle and travel plans.

"My interest used to be in portrait photography, but the training provided me with the possibility of shooting music videos with large scenes," she said.

"I'm now able to capture the moments of beauty in a better and more convenient way," Peng added. "What is more, people from overseas always show great interest in my drone. So, I can promote our Chinese culture by teaching them the techniques."

Li Jiayue contributed to the story.

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