Low-altitude aviation setting its sights high

China’s latest plan to integrate general aviation equipment comprehensively into people’s jobs and daily lives by 2030 will give a strong boost to the development of the low-altitude economy, including electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOL), experts said on Thursday.

The comments came after the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and three other ministerial-level departments unveiled an ambitious plan on Wednesday to form a trillion-yuan-level market in general aviation equipment.

The plan aims to capitalize on advancements in unmanned, electric and intelligent technologies to propel the commercial application of new-generation general aviation equipment in urban air transportation, logistics distribution and emergency rescue operations.

With a significant boost in innovation capabilities, China seeks to lead in the development of green and intelligent general aviation aircraft, positioning itself at the forefront of global innovation.

Wu Peixin, an independent aviation industry analyst in Beijing, said this is the latest signal from the Chinese government that the country attaches great importance to the development of the low-altitude economy.

According to the plan, key initiatives include the establishment of joint laboratories, technology innovation centers and tech innovation service platforms in the general aviation sector. Additionally, efforts will be directed toward laying the groundwork for a robust regulatory and safety verification system, while demonstrating the tangible benefits of aviation emergency rescue and logistics distribution on a large scale.

By 2030, China aims to establish a new model for the development of the general aviation industry characterized by high-end, intelligent and green features. This model will support and ensure the safe and efficient operation of various networks, including passenger transportation, drone delivery and low-altitude production operations, thus fueling low-altitude economic growth and forming a trillion-yuan-level market scale.

Furthermore, China will support the development of smart air mobility equipment, such as eVTOL, to meet the evolving needs of consumers, the plan said.

In recent years, China’s policymakers have increasingly focused on the concept of the “low-altitude economy”, though an official definition has yet to be agreed upon. Generally understood by economists as a range of business activities occurring within airspace up to 1,000 meters above ground, it encompasses both manned and unmanned civilian aircraft operations. These activities include passenger transportation, air tourism, cargo delivery as well as the manufacturing, maintenance and integrated services associated with related equipment.

In February, Chinese eVTOL aircraft developer AutoFlight conducted the world’s first intercity demonstration flight in South China’s Guangdong province. The service could offer a faster option for passengers shuttling between Shenzhen and Zhuhai in Guangdong in the future as it will take only 20 minutes compared to a regular three-hour car ride at present, the company said.

Guo Yi, an investment feasibility study researcher at the Shenzhen-based think tank China Development Institute, said: “In the future, as applications for low-altitude flights expand, low-altitude flight services are poised to move beyond specialized and high-end uses, reaching a broader market.”

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