Cargo drone begins carrying seedlings from Hainan

2024-05-07 08:23:21China Daily Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

An FP-98 cargo drone, China's first large-scale fixed-wing drone, prepares to take off in Haikou, Hainan province, on April 24. (YUAN CHEN/FOR CHINA DAILY)

A large cargo drone transported 455 kilograms of seedlings for shrimp plants late last month from Haikou, Hainan province to Zhuhai, Guangdong province in less than three hours — the maiden cross-sea flight of a drone for public cargo logistics between the provinces.

"It's much faster to travel by air than by land. We have experienced the benefits of flying at low altitude," said Yun Yongchao, general manager of Hainan Lutai Marine Biotechnology, owner of the shrimp plant seedlings.

The cultivated seedlings are in high demand, particularly outside the island province. Their transportation was mainly via land, due to the high cost of air express dedicated to the transport of goods from Hainan, which resulted in extended transit times, significant losses, and high packaging and labor costs. Moreover, the unpredictability of civil airliners, including flight delays, added complexity to the process.

The use of a cargo drone saved at least 10 hours in transportation while maintaining a 100 percent survival rate for the seedlings. Yun emphasized that this enables the company to maximize its benefits, as it not only minimizes road crossing and labor costs, but also reduces packaging expenses because of the shorter transportation time.

The FP-98, which carried out the flight, is China's first large-scale fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicle. Capable of carrying a commercial load of up to 1.5 metric tons, it boasts a maximum navigation time of eight hours and a range of 1,200 kilometers. Equipped with the advanced BeiDou III integrated management platform, the FP-98 is designed to operate day and night, even in challenging weather conditions such as heavy rain, fog and wind, and function in temperatures from-40C to 55C.

Ding Xiaoliang, co-president of Beijing J%26J Group, noted that extreme weather potentially leads to deviations in the flights of drones. However, "the use of control platforms enables real-time monitoring and control of drones from takeoff to flight path, which means that adjustments can be made as necessary, such as managing the flight speed during thunderstorms to prioritize safety", he explained.

"It will play a pivotal role in boosting the distribution of high value-added agricultural products and sideline items from the island," said Wang Kangliang, deputy general manager of Hainan Aerospace City Industrial Investment Holding.

As high value-added agricultural products like leopard coral grouper and seedless litchi are gaining traction in markets beyond the island, Wang said the company aims to strengthen connections between Hainan and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and Beibu Gulf, with a specific focus on implementing consistent transportation services for high value-added agricultural products from Hainan.

The maiden flight is also expected to inject new vitality into the low-altitude economic development between Hainan and other regions, he added.

Low-altitude economy refers to a diverse economic landscape that operates within the airspace below 1,000 meters. It primarily revolves around the utilization of civilian manned and unmanned aircraft for various low-altitude flight activities, and spans industries from general aviation manufacturing, logistics and tourism to agriculture, emergency rescue and trade.

In 2023, China's low-altitude economy soared past 500 billion yuan ($69 billion). This year, it was mentioned in the Government Work Report for the first time, showcasing the nation's determination to cultivate this "new growth engine".

Hainan has been at the forefront of low-altitude airspace management reform in China. With over 300 flyable days each year, the province is a prime candidate for the development of general aircraft trade, commercial short-haul transportation, low-altitude tourism consumption, and the advancement of the marine economy, said Liu Chong, director of the Wenchang International Aerospace City Administration.

Hainan unveiled China's inaugural provincial unmanned aerial vehicle flyable airspace map in November, promoting the standardized management and safe operation of UAVs and setting a precedent for domestic low-altitude three-dimensional airspace planning.

"Hainan has established a comprehensive low-altitude management system alongside a highly effective infrastructure service network within the province, thus realizing the goals of affordability and efficient control," noted Hu Qingqun, deputy general manager of China General Aviation Holdings.

"We plan to deploy 300 drones in Hainan for many applications, including logistics and tourism," Hu said. He added that the company will establish a one-hour economic circle for drones across the entire island.

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