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Low-altitude economy taking off across country

China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-20 09:36

A novel scene is taking place during this year's litchi season, with drones shuttling back and forth on the first low-altitude air route connecting South China's Hainan and Guangdong provinces, bringing freshly picked fruit to foodies much faster.

Phoenix Wings, a cargo drone company operated by express delivery giant SF Group, initiated the interprovincial drone-delivery service for fresh fruit across the Qiongzhou Strait in late May, using Fengzhou-90 drones developed by SF.

This new mode of transport is 70 percent faster and 30 percent cheaper than conventional cross-sea transport, enhancing the delivery of fresh litchis and bringing economic benefits to both sides, according to Phoenix Wings.

In addition to the litchi delivery route from Hainan's capital Haikou to the coastal city of Zhanjiang in Guangdong, Phoenix Wings said it plans to develop more routes for the delivery of time-sensitive seasonal agricultural products.

The burgeoning drone-delivery field is a microcosm of China's growing low-altitude economy, which has led to the development and application of various types of innovative aerial vehicles for logistics, commuting, tourism and even sports.

The low-altitude economy covers a variety of industries, including aircraft research and development, infrastructure construction and operation, and services for flight activities.

It is estimated that the market size of the low-altitude economy sector will surge from over 500 billion yuan ($70.3 billion) last year to 2 trillion yuan by 2030, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China.

Chongqing, a mountainous municipality in Southwest China, intends to introduce diverse recreational activities related to low-altitude sports and tourism. The activities include parachuting, paragliding and sightseeing over the Yangtze River and the cityscape of Chongqing by balloon, helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft.

In March, it launched an interprovincial low-altitude air route to the city of Zigong in neighboring Sichuan province for trial operation, with scheduled flights expected to start in the second half of this year.

Looking ahead, Chongqing plans to open at least two low-altitude air routes for tourists to enjoy aerial views of the city's landmarks.

As a pilot city of the country's low-altitude airspace management reform, Chongqing is also gearing up to extend low-altitude flights to the fields of logistics delivery, urban management and emergency rescue, according to the Chongqing economic and information commission.

Hainan has recently become a hot spot for air sports enthusiasts, as skydiving from either a helicopter or a fixed-wing airplane has surged in popularity among Chinese sports fans.

"In recent years, Hainan has deepened the reform of low-altitude airspace management, creating a favorable policy environment for air sports," said Ma Chao, a researcher at Hainan Normal University.

Innovative Chinese aerial vehicle developers are also energized by the surge of passion for the low-altitude economy. In April, drone maker EHang Holdings obtained a production certificate for its EH216-S passenger-carrying autonomous aerial vehicle system from the CAAC.

It is the first such certificate issued in China, and also the first in the global electric vertical takeoff and landing industry.

The production certificate is a milestone for EHang, which is now allowed to mass produce EH216-S systems and further its commercial operations, said Hu Huazhi, its founder and CEO.

The company will gradually expand production and delivery, bringing safe and reliable autonomous passenger aerial vehicles to the growing market, Hu said.


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