by Xinhua writer Lai Yuchen
GUANGZHOU, Aug. 17 (Xinhua) -- Song Hong, an experienced drone
operator in Beijing, is anxiously waiting for his license.
Song and 45 others, having passed theoretical exams and flight
tests, are ready to become China's first batch of certificated
flyers of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) - drones.
The civil UAV industry is ready to take off in China. There is a
huge demand. China's general aviation sector could hardly be less
developed and is unable to meet the needs of all kinds of
customers, from disaster relief to crop dusting.
Song is the boss of China Eagle, a UAV developer and
manufacturer in Beijing. The firm works with the State Oceanic
Administration on shore patrols.
"A ship patrol can cost up to 1 million yuan (163,000 U.S.
dollars) per day, while a drone patrol costs only 300 yuan," Song
Shortly after this month's earthquake in the southwestern
province of Yunnan, aerial photos taken by drones provided valuable
information for disaster relief.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) estimates that
there are some 10,000 professional UAV operators in China and the
number is growing rapidly. The Civil Aviation Administration
requires that anyone who wishes to operate a UAV heavier than 7 kg
must obtain a license. If the UAV is heavier than 116 kg and
operating in the integrated airspace, where manned aircraft also
fly, the operator my must have both a pilot's license and UAV
Zhang Feng, secretary-general of AOPA, knows it will take time
for all drone operators to get licenses, but there will be no
punishment for those flying without licenses during the transition
period. "The regulation aims to put things in order, not ban people
from flying," he said.
Meng Wei, general manager of Art-Tech UAV in Shenzhen, welcomes
the new regulations. "We now know where the boundary is and what we
can do. It's definitely good news," he said.
AOPA China estimate that there are around 300 enterprises
involved in the industry, including both state-owned enterprises
and private startups.
"The gap between these companies and their western counterparts
is not that big,"said Zhang Feng. "China's drone industry is quite
competitive, especially in areas such as avionics and flight
At the beginning of the year, Shenzhen published a 7-year
development plan for aviation and aerospace, promising a UAV
industrial base with a drone flight testing center. Research
institutions, manufacturers and parts suppliers will be encouraged
to set up shop there.
With the increasing popularity of small drones, unauthorized
flying has become an issue.
Last December, air traffic controllers at Beijing Capital
International Airport were alerted to a low-flying UAV. Two
passenger planes were forced to change course and more than 10
flights were delayed. It turned out to be a company conducting an
aerial survey near the airport . Four people were detained for
endangering public security.
"Reckless flying is dangerous to other aircraft as well as
people on the ground. The operator licensure is just a start," said
Ke Yubao, AOPA China's acting secretary-general.
Almost all airspace over the Chinese mainland is strictly
controlled and all flying for whatever purpose must get official
Ke, a senior flight instructor, admitted that it is sometimes
difficult to get permission.
"Without question, everyone should obey the rules in the air,
just like on the roads," said Ke. "But on the other hand, the
authorities should streamline airspace management. We've been
calling for the opening up of the low-altitude airspace for years."