Five years ago in China, parcel delivery via drone seemed like something you’d see in a sci-fi movie, not real life. According to a report on Quartz, it’s a government-licensed service ready for flight.
SF Express, the nation’s biggest logistics firm, announced today (March 28) that subsidiary Fengyu Shuntu Technology received the first official permit in China to deliver packages via unmanned aerial vehicles, following a series of tests that began last June.
SF Express aims to use drones for delivering goods to rural and sparsely populated areas in China. The company said it will create an aerial delivery system based upon three stages: Planes will transport large quantities of goods nationwide, big drones will distribute them to local warehouses, and small drones will make final deliveries to customers.
SF Express has been working toward today’s milestone for years. In 2013, local residents in the southern city of Dongguang spotted a parcel-laden drone operated by the company. In testing in Yunnan province last December, another SF Express subsidiary delivered emergency supplies via a drone capable of carrying 1.2 metric tons (1.3 tons).
The license announced today applies to airspace in eastern China. Other details are unclear at this point, including the drone types permitted, which cities will see the first deliveries, or when such services will be offered. SF Express didn’t immediately respond to Quartz’s questions.
Skeptics don’t see much business potential for drone-based deliveries in China’s remote areas. More than 80% of the logistics orders in China occur on the east coast, logistics consultant Xu Yong recently told Beijing News (link in Chinese). Continue reading about drone-based package delivery in China.