SF pins hopes on unmanned aircraft

Updated 2017-10-31 10:03:01 China Daily
A technician checks an AT200, the world's largest transportation drone with a ton-level capacity, in Pucheng county, Shaanxi province.

A technician checks an AT200, the world's largest transportation drone with a ton-level capacity, in Pucheng county, Shaanxi province.

Chinese logistics firm SF Express has unveiled an ambitious development plan that hinges on full-scale drone deliveries including utilization of large unmanned freight aircraft.

The delivery company signed a strategic cooperation agreement on Monday with the developers of the AT200, the world's largest transportation drone with a metric ton-level capacity.

The homegrown aircraft is 11.84 meters long and 4.04 meters high, with a cargo space of 10 cubic meters, a carrying capacity of 1.5 tons and a flight range of more than 2,183 kilometers.

The plane, which is able to fly at 313 kilometers per hour for about eight hours, successfully performed the first flight on Oct 26 in Shaanxi province.

With the addition of the large drone, SF Express has completed its air transport network, which is composed of large manned transportation aircraft, large drones for branch routes and small drones for terminal deliveries. The company said such a network will help make 36-hour deliveries nationwide.

Besides the AT200, SF Express said it also tested an amphibious drone in July, which can carry up to 250 kilograms of cargo with a cruising speed of 170 kilometers.

Both the seaplane and the AT200 have no special conditions for taking off and landing and are suitable for working in complicated environments, especially in undeveloped and remote areas.

Wu Weiting, deputy general manager of SF Express, said at a meeting in Shenzhen on Friday that the company's strategy would be to utilize unmanned facilities for the transfer process, while maintaining personal services for delivery and collection of parcels.

Utilizing large drones is in line with SF Express' service product transformation. Wu said heavy cargo transportation services rose by 86 percent in the first nine months this year compared with the same period in 2016, and its contribution to net profit is also high.

Drones are increasingly being used for deliveries by international giants such as Amazon.com and DHL Express. However, their drones in service or those under development are mostly small in size.

SF Express has also developed a small-size fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicle named Manta Ray by itself.

Zhao Xiaomin, a logistics market consultant in Shanghai, said the biggest barrier for the use of more unmanned transportation aircraft in China is the issue of license. The commercial operation of the large drone AT200 at this time is "revolutionary", he said.

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