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China “to accelerate low altitude economy of long distance cargo drones and urban eVTOLs”

The 14th Five Year Plan was launched by the CAAC on 8 June, but no details of the eVTOL/drone elements of the plan can be found on the CAAC website. The news service carries a question-and-answer story with an unnamed CAAC official. The following text is an edited version of interview answers.

  • The plan proposes to ….expand the application field of drones, guide the establishment of a market-oriented and socialized service guarantee system, and vigorously develop a low-altitude new economy driven by new intelligent unmanned aerial vehicles. It is clear that it will support the expansion of application services, deepen agricultural services, expand industrial applications, support logistics and distribution, and promote cross-border integration.
  • In terms of UAV logistics and distribution, we will vigorously support the development of UAV logistics and distribution, open up the “trunk, branch and end” network of aviation logistics, and promote the organic integration of UAVs into the county and rural three-level logistics network system and the modernization of agriculture and rural areas . In particular, the plan will develop the low-altitude UAV logistics distribution system in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and explore the construction of a UAV low-altitude logistics distribution route network.
  • In addition, in terms of promoting cross-border integration, it is specifically mentioned to encourage the development of new types of aircraft such as manned and unmanned aircraft, which will drive the rapid development of urban air traffic.
  • The plan does not directly mention the electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle eVTOL, but Guangzhou’s EHang is the first pilot unit of manned unmanned aerial vehicles. The “Special Conditions for EH216-S Unmanned Aircraft System” (SC-21-002) issued by the Airworthiness Department of the Civil Aviation Administration in February this year stated that the aircraft of the EH216-S unmanned aircraft system can be….The flight plan is fully automated and is expected to fly in low-altitude isolated airspace, primarily for commercial passenger-carrying operations in an urban air mobility (UAM) environment. The plan also mentions: “Optimize airworthiness certification. In view of the key application needs in passenger- carrying , logistics, plant protection and other fields, speed up the airworthiness certification and standard output of passenger-carrying, manned and medium-to-large logistics and distribution drones , and optimize the certification procedures. Reduce pre-examination reviews and strengthen interim and post-event supervision.
  • The plan specifically has the content of promoting the construction of the legal system, which mentions: insist on promoting development and preventing risks, carry out the construction of drone regulations, classification management methods, comprehensive management platforms, guidance mechanisms, etc., and actively cooperate with and promote the introduction of UAVs. The Provisional Regulations on Aircraft Flight Management, formulate the Regulations on the Safe Operation of Civil Unmanned Aircraft and supporting normative documents, and clarify the requirements for the registration, airworthiness management, personnel qualifications, air traffic control operations, and market operations of drones
  • The plan also mentions support for new trials, helping qualified regions to accelerate the construction and operation of unmanned aviation test bases, carry out operational concepts, risk assessments, technical tests and verification flights in different scenarios, and summarize safe operation standards for specific scenarios in cities, islands and plateaus Specifications to support the supervision and service of unmanned aerial activities.
  • There will be innovations in operational management. Support pilot applications of drones for logistics and distribution, carrying passengers, explore supervision and service models that conform to the characteristics of unmanned aviation, and establish an operation management system that traces the entire process of personnel, aircraft, operation permits and operation records. Improve and promote operational safety risk assessment tools suitable for China’s needs, and further build a digital supervision service platform with UTM at the core.  Improve the automatic practice test function of drone pilot license, and optimize personnel license management.
  • The plan will strengthen the construction of relevant systems for UAV airworthiness management, promote the appointment representative system, improve the UAV airworthiness management model based on operational risks, and strengthen the main responsibility of UAV design and manufacturing enterprises. Support local governments to implement public safety supervision of drones and increase the investigation and punishment of illegal flying of drones. Support associations and other social organizations to guide and urge various entities in the industry to produce, operate, and use drones in accordance with the law.
  • In terms of support measures, the plan mentioned that based on the technical requirements of UAV airworthiness verification based on operational risks, the layout and construction of China’s civil aviation civil UAV technology research platform.Research and promote the release of key technology application policies such as remote identification, perception and avoidance, 5G, and Beidou navigation, and strengthen the internationalization of standards.

According to a February 2022 CAAC press release:

“CAAC recently issued the first national letter of approval and operation certificate for trial operation of UAS logistics on feeder lines. SF UAS, a large UAS enterprise affiliated to SF Express, has become the first enterprise in China that can carry out commercial trial operation of UAS logistics on feeder lines under specific scenarios, which features long-time transport of cargo weighing at least a ton. It demonstrates thorough implementation of requirements in the 14th Five-Year Plan for Civil Aviation Development, the Special Plan for Air Logistics Development and the Roadmap for Building of Intelligent Civil Aviation, further facilitating building of comprehensive air logistics and intelligent logistics and contributing to efforts for a civil aviation powerhouse in multiple fields and intelligent civil aviation.”

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(Image: Maria Passer / Shutterstock.com)

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