Home World News China China taps into potential of low-altitude economy

China taps into potential of low-altitude economy

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A drone takes off from Dahejia township, Jishishan county, northwest China's Gansu province for emergency mapping of earthquake-stricken areas, Dec. 21, 2023. (Photo by Ding Kai/People's Daily Online)
A drone takes off from Dahejia township, Jishishan county, northwest China's Gansu province for emergency mapping of earthquake-stricken areas, Dec. 21, 2023. (Photo by Ding Kai/People's Daily Online)

By Yang Junfeng

In the frozen mountains, heavy-duty drones are commissioned to clear the ice off high-voltage lines in the sky.

Across vast stretches of cotton fields, agricultural drones are deployed methodically to gather real-time data on soil and crops, aiding farmers in precision farming.

Amidst the chaos of a fire, firefighting drones spray high-pressure water columns in the air, successfully taming the flames engulfing the upper floors of a building.

On a bustling film set, aerial drones swoop down from above, capturing breathtaking scenes with high-definition cameras.

As drones become increasingly integrated into various industries in China, the concept of the low-altitude economy is gaining traction, empowering countless sectors and giving rise to innovative business forms.

The term “low altitude” generally refers to airspace with a vertical distance of less than 1,000 meters above ground level. Depending on regional characteristics and practical needs, the distance can extend to up to 4,000 meters. 

By energizing the market, providing policy support, strengthening technical capabilities, and promoting high-quality development of the industry, China is fully tapping into the potential of the low-altitude economy, enabling the industry to reach new heights.

Taking a “flying taxi” used to seem like a scene from a science fiction movie. It is becoming a reality nowadays that aerial commuting may put an end to traffic congestion during rush hours.

This year, the range of services offered by an “air taxis” business in Shenzhen, south China’s Guangdong province, continues to expand. The commuter route, connecting an international convention and exhibition center in Pingshan district and the central business district of Futian district, has reduced travel time from 60 minutes on the ground to just 13 minutes in the sky. 

In Hefei, east China’s Anhui province, the world’s first commercially deployed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has achieved regular flights in Luogang Central Park. 

Professionals analyze that the future of the low-altitude economy holds immense potential and the industry can be utilized not only for transportation systems but also for industrial systems. The emergence of more application scenarios will also give rise to new industrial chains. Advanced technologies such as digital technology, intelligent technology, and digital twin technology can all play a significant role in the low-altitude industry.

Chinese companies have already taken the lead in the low-altitude economy. 

In terms of global market share and productization capabilities, Chinese civil UAV manufacturers, represented by DJI, are already highly competitive. DJI has established a significant advantage in areas such as flight control, gimbal systems, image transmission, and self-developed imaging systems, with a current global market share exceeding 70 percent.

In 2023, China’s civil UAV industry reported an output of 120 billion yuan ($16.85 billion), ranking first in the world. It is expected that this number will be even higher by 2025. 

According to a recent white paper released by the International Digital Economy Academy (IDEA), the comprehensive contribution of the low-altitude economy to China’s national economy will reach 3 trillion to 5 trillion yuan by 2025.

The low-altitude economy is becoming a new track for more and more cities. 

In recent years, aiming at the strategic goal of building a “capital of aviation sports,” Anyang, central China’s Henan province, has established a drone industrial park, which can build a complete drone with just a single design drawing.

In Wuhu Aviation Industrial Park in Anhui province, an industry cluster with nearly 140 projects related to complete UAVs, drones, engines, maintenance, and operations has been established.

Hunan province in central China, the first pilot province in the country for all-area, low-altitude flights, has just completed flight verification for 97 low-altitude air routes across the entire province. This can be regarded as a safety flight manual, based on which drones can fly to wherever they want to go.

At the flight service station in Hunan’s Changsha, a large screen displays real-time information about the airspace in the province. The entire low-altitude airspace in Hunan is divided into 179 sections, and the real-time monitoring allows the province to know when and how each section is available. For every approved flight plan, a quick simulation can be conducted to ensure flight safety by determining its flight route.

In recent years, with a focus on developing the low-altitude economy, China has continuously strengthened multiple policy supports such as airspace, economic, and industrial policies. This has promoted synergies between strategic planning and local exploratory initiatives.

On Jan. 1, 2024, an interim regulation on the management of UAVs was implemented, which aims at the development of the low-altitude economy. 

He Tianxing, vice president of EHang, the world’s leading autonomous aerial vehicle technology platform company based in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, believes the regulation will standardize the flight and related activities of UAVs, and provide standardized safeguards for the commercial operation of UAVs, laying a solid foundation for advancing commercialization and improving the low-altitude economic ecosystem.

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