Drone Delivery Services Are Booming In China

By Carl Engelking | March 27, 2015 12:39 pm

SF Express delivery drone. (Credit: Weibo)

While companies like Amazon are chomping at the bit to launch drone delivery services in the United States, packages are already soaring through the air in China.

Two years ago, residents in the city of Dongguang spotted experimental SF Express-branded delivery drones hovering overhead with packages in tow. SF Express is the country’s largest mail carrier, and it presently delivers roughly 500 packages a day via drone. Now, the company says it plans to expand its services and double the number a packages it sends each day, according to a Chinese news report.

The state of drone couriers in China couldn’t contrast more with the situation here in the United States.

Opening the Skies

SF Express deploys octocopters that can carry about six pounds, so they’re only used for small express deliveries. In China, commercial drone use is legal; businesses simply need to get authorization from aviation authorities regarding the type of drone being used. Retailer Alibaba is also experimenting with delivering teas via drone in China. And a company called InCake gave delivery drones a try, but Shanghai police put an end to that after residents feared the weight of cakes would drag down the drone.

SF Express currently delivers packages by drone in cities in southern and eastern China where demand for same-day delivery is high. They hope to expand their operation to more remote villages and farms in the future. The company’s drone manufacturer, a firm called XAircraft, has said that SF Express’ drone fleet will reach “several thousand units soon.”

At a Snail’s Pace

On the other side of the planet, the Federal Aviation Administration recently gave Amazon permission to conduct outdoor testing of a single prototype deliver drone. Unfortunately, that particular drone prototype became obsolete in the six months it took the FAA to approve Amazon’s request. To make up for the sluggish regulatory pace in the U.S., Amazon says it has been forced to move drone research and development to other countries.

In written testimony this week to the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security, Amazon’s president for global policy subtlety chastised lawmakers for moving too slowly.

Nowhere outside of the United States have we been required to wait more than one or two months to begin testing… This low level of government attention and slow pace are inadequate, especially compared to the regulatory efforts in other countries…The (FAA) already has adequate statutory authority. What the FAA needs is impetus, lest the United States fall further behind.

Flying drones for commercial purposes is still banned in the U.S., but one way pilots can begin flying their craft is to go through what’s called a “Section 333” process. Basically, the FAA can give commercial pilots permission to fly a drone under highly specific parameters. Currently, commercial drone operators who obtain a Section 333 exemption can fly anywhere in the country, besides restricted areas, but must stay below 200 feet in altitude and within the line of sight of the operator.

Unfortunately, only 53 commercial operators have been granted that status. There are still roughly 600 applications pending.

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  • gustavo helfer

    como pruebas estoy de acuerdo pero todavia son inseguros, faltan años de desarrollo.

  • nik

    Get a commercial pilots licence, and fly a ‘toy’ plane?

    Why bother?

  • Sani Fornus

    Filthy rich/dead broke Old Lady Clinton, I am given to understand, has plans to utilize drones to spy on her opponent in 2016.

    • Ken Carlson

      That wasn’t even a good attempt to troll off the subject. At least put some effort into it.

  • Lisatee

    Our government is alarmingly behind in technology – in every area. Pathetic. Get those 80 year old congress people out.

  • queenidog

    Amazon stepped across the border into Canada and are testing their drones there. By the time the FAA grants permission, Amazon will have a good idea how their system works. You’re welcome

  • Don’t Even Try It!

    China is much further ahead of the U.S. in a LOT of things that we don’t yet realize. Within the last 30 years, China has come from a 3rd world country of poverty to a country equal to and even surpassing the U.S. in nearly every aspect of manufacturing and economy. Their growth and prosperity is due to them moving more toward a republican form of government and capitalism returning wealth to the people. Don’t believe everything our MSM and government tells you about China because most of it is not true. Visit China sometime for yourself and learn the truth!

  • citizen

    Terrorism is a real threat. This is further evidence of how their main concept, disrupting our economy, is working.


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