Drone flying over Chinese city

China drafts roadmap to boost its civilian drone industry

Image credit: Foto 80210308 © Prasit Rodphan | Dreamstime.com

An increase in the use of drones for inner-city logistics and long-haul goods transport could turn China into a "global civil aviation power," according to the country's civil aviation regulator.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has published a detailed plan, outlining the targets the regulator wanted its unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) industry to reach by the years 2025, 2030 and 2035 in order to become the largest drone market in the world, closing the gap with the US.

The roadmap is currently open to public comment and it includes improving regulations and expanding airspace capacity for civilian UAVs, Reuters has reported. The CAAC said the plan will be open for comment until September 5 2022.

The goal is to "enhance China's international competitiveness in the field of unmanned aviation as well as the country's right to speak on international civil aviation rules and standards... and reach the goal of becoming a global civil aviation power," a representative from the aviation authority said.

China has already adapted nimbly to the rise in the use of drone technologies for non-military purposes. Shenzhen-based company DJI is the top manufacturer of commercial drones, with an estimated market share of around 70 per cent, according to Drone Industry Insights. Second and third places are occupied by American company Intel (4.1 per cent) and China's Yuneec (3.6 per cent).

Overall, the growth rate for the commercial drone market has been estimated at around 41 per cent between 2017 and 2024, with the value of the Chinese drone industry expected to reach £22bn in 2025. 

However, despite the success of companies that have relied on drones or box-like robots on wheels to deliver parcels, regulatory hurdles have kept many industries from making a full transition to drone-based systems, with many transportation services continuing to rely heavily on human couriers. The aviation authority's roadmap thus aims to bridge this gap and provide the final push that it expects will allow the sector to reach its full potential.

In 2018, the China Academy of Aerospace Electronics Technology and Chinese delivery company SF Express tested the world’s biggest unmanned transport aircraft, which was said to carry a payload of 1.5 tonnes (1,360kg). Two years later, however, the US added DJI to its Entity List, restricting the sale of the Chinese company's goods and services in US territory.  

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