Recently, Autoflight’s self-developed autonomous eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) aircraft took off from Shanghai and flew to Zhoushan island across the sea to carry the shuttle crabs and the large yellow croakers, which are local signature seafood, back to Shanghai. The round trip amounts to approximately 200 kilometers and it only took the eVTOL one hour to complete each way!
This is China’s first ultra-long distance land-to-island logistic practice using fixed-wing eVTOL aircraft since CAAC (Civil Aviation Administration of China) launched 13 Unmanned Civil Aviation Experimental Bases (Test Areas) in late 2020.
Long flight time + high reliability
Autoflight eVTOL unlocks new potential for low-altitude airspace island logistics
China has an extended coastline. The islands serve as fishing, scenery and shipping ports simultaneously. But small islands account for the majority of the archipelagos, and their development is limited by inconvenient transportation - the shuttles are infrequent and slow. Some islands even became abandoned and uninhabited.
eVTOL aircraft generate new possibilities for low-altitude airspace island smart logistics. They are the optimal choices to transport high value products to and from islands because they can be easily deployed without the need of any airport or runway.
However, flying above the sea not only requires these autonomous aircraft to withstand extended flight time, long flying distance, and large payload, but also to overcome technical hurdles such as ultra-long haul telecommunications and the disturbance on satellite navigation signals caused by oceanic windstorms or sunglint. Autoflight’s self-developed eVTOL aircraft has a fixed-wing VTOL configuration, which makes it capable of flying for extended duration and carrying large payload. It is also equipped with stable flight control and avionics system, redundant safety design, ultra-long distance (over 100 km) data and image streaming capability, satellite communication, and level 7 wind resistance in level flight to ensure safety during long-haul overwater flights.
This successful 200 km autonomous flight serves as a true testimony of Autoflight eVTOL’s flight time and reliability. It rendered the story of “deliver seafood from Zhoushan to Shanghai in one hour, serve a fresh meal under two hours” from a possibility to a reality, and pioneered China’s low altitude airspace island logistics.
Empowered by Test Areas, eVTOL aircraft embrace immense possibilities
In 2019, CAAC published Guidance on Promoting Civil UAV Development (Exposure Draft), which proposed a growth path of “cargo to passenger, general aviation to transportation, isolation to integration” for UAV industry, with an emphasis on low-altitude UAV public flight route planning and operation research. Pilot VTOL passenger and cargo programs should be conducted to provide basis for formulating regulations and standards related to airworthiness, flight standards, and air traffic control.
In late 2020, CAAC launched 13 domestic Unmanned Civil Aviation Experimental Bases (Test Areas), among which Shanghai Jinshan Eastern China UAV base is the only one that has island application scenarios, and provides comprehensive support in commercializing UAVs’ cargo transportation possibilities to further increase the inter-island delivery efficiency for express air-parcels, seafood and other high value items.
On July 19th, 2021, Hunan became China’s first pilot province to explore full-area low-altitude flights. Utilizing the airspace below 3 kilometers above the ground, it strives to accumulate experiences in network coverage surveillance, low-altitude air traffic control, and low-altitude airspace operation management to build theoretical basis for the nationwide opening.
Later, the Central Air Traffic Management Committee Office approved Jiangxi and Anhui to be subsequent pilot provinces for full-area low-altitude airspace operation and reform.
This series of policies and measures greatly advanced the development in China’s civil UAV industry, and provided a good policy environment for the rapid deployment of this emerging technology. At present, Autoflight not only actively participates in inter-island smart transportation, but also builds partnerships with clients in areas such as medical emergency response, key resource distribution etc. The company is accumulating operational data and experiences through real practices to tirelessly explore safer, more efficient and economical aerial logistic dynamics.