(Yicai Global) March 28 -- A subsidiary of SF Holding Co., the operator of China's largest private courier service SF Express, has secured the country's first license to deliver packages using unmanned aerial vehicles.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China handed the permit to Jiangxi Fengyu Shuntu Technology Co., Shenzhen-based SF Holding said in a statement. It won the license after a successful pilot project involving drone freight deliveries last June.
SF Holding has made big investments in developing drone-related and air freight services, including buying and leasing aircraft to build up a network and recently gaining approval to build its own airport in Ezhou in central Hubei province.
China's rural areas stand to benefit most from the introduction of drone deliveries. Some 70 percent of the country is difficult to access by road because of mountains, hills, and plateaus. Unmanned aerial vehicles will provide a new way to navigate remote locations, while also improving delivery times. Vast networks of ground-based couriers already serve the nation's densely-populated urban landscape.
The license allows the company to use drones to deliver goods in pilot areas designated by the CAAC. In other words, it will take the lead in launching commercial operations of logistics drones, giving it the first mover advantage over other competitors such as e-commerce heavyweight JD.Com Inc., which has also run its own trials.
SF Holding aims to create an air delivery network that covers all third-tier cities and smaller ones by continuing to develop a drone grid and integrating main routes and extensions of its UAV logistics network, the statement said. The company will leverage existing resources to increase the geographical reach and efficiency of UAV deliveries in sparsely populated remote areas.
The State Council, or cabinet, released a set of interim regulations for express delivery businesses yesterday, effective May 1, and will encourage and guide couriers to adopt advanced technologies, promote automatic sorting and mechanized handling equipment, smart terminal service facilities, electronic waybills and information management systems.