Low-altitude economy set to take off

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A 5-seat eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft flies during a demonstration flight near Shekou Cruise Home port in Shenzhen, south China's Guangdong Province, Feb. 27, 2024. [Photo/Xinhua]

The growth of China's low-altitude economy is expected to accelerate in the coming years, driven mainly by investments in related infrastructure and commercial applications, industry experts said.

The market scale of China's low-altitude economy, which is regarded as a strategic emerging industry, reached 505.95 billion yuan ($69.9 billion) in 2023, up 33.8 percent year-on-year, and is expected to surpass 1 trillion yuan in 2026, according to a new report by market research firm CCID Consulting.

The revenue from electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft rose 77.3 percent year-on-year to 980 million yuan last year, the report said. This segment is poised to see wider commercial application in fields like aerial sightseeing and tourism in 2024.

The report estimates that the eVTOL industry will maintain rapid growth in the next few years, with the market scale hitting 9.5 billion yuan in 2026, fueled by the speedy issuance of airworthiness certifications by authorities.

The revenue of China's civilian drone sector stood at 117.4 billion yuan in 2023, an increase of 32 percent year-on-year.

Industry-level drones are finding applications in a wide range of fields, such as emergency rescue work, power line patrolling, farming, and surveillance and security operations, it added.

The low-altitude economy, which is key in nurturing new quality productive forces and a new growth engine, has been written into this year's Government Work Report for the first time.

Several provincial-level regions nationwide have unveiled plans to develop the low-altitude economy in their government work reports in 2024.

Shenzhen and Guangzhou in Guangdong province and Hefei in Anhui province have rolled out favorable policies, such as providing subsidies and incentives, to boost the development of the low-altitude sector and build up related industrial clusters.

China aims to establish a new development model for the general aviation industry characterized by high-end, intelligent and green features by 2030, according to an action plan issued by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and three other government departments recently.

EHang Holdings Ltd, a Chinese urban air mobility technology company, is stepping up efforts to bolster the commercial use of eVTOL aircraft in aerial sightseeing, tourism and logistics, and expand its footprint in the emerging low-altitude economy sector.

The company said on Sunday that it has obtained the production certificate for its EH216-S passenger-carrying pilotless eVTOL aircraft.

The certificate, issued by the Civil Aviation Administration of China, is the world's first production certificate granted in the global eVTOL industry.

"The issuance of the PC is pivotal for the EH216-S as it opens the door to mass production, and is a crucial step for our advancement toward commercial operations," said Hu Huazhi, founder, chairman and CEO of EHang.

The company has inked strategic partnerships with some local governments to jointly create a low-altitude economy industry ecosystem. The certified EH216-S has successfully completed its inaugural commercial flight demonstrations in Guangzhou and Hefei.

The eVTOL aircraft needs to go through full verification regarding safety and technological stability in sparsely populated areas or scenarios such as natural landscape tourist destinations in the early stages before they can truly enter the urban air mobility segment, said Yu Zhanfu, a partner at global market consultancy Roland Berger.

Yang Sumei, an associate professor at Guangzhou Maritime University, said more efforts should be made to accelerate the construction of low-altitude infrastructure, and intelligent management and operating platforms, as well as establish applicable rules and standards to better regulate the fast-developing sector.

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