China accelerates its plan to develop a USD44 billion low altitude economy by 2026

By Philip Butterworth-Hayes

The launch today of the Jiangmen Low-Altitude Tourism Town project (including an order for 100 Xpeng Aerhot eVTOLs) and the Taiyuan City low altitude programme in late May (with the purchase of up to 500 EHang EH-216 eVTOLs), marks a new phase of acceleration of the Chinese government’s “low altitude economy” strategy.

In June 2022 the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) issued the “14th Five-Year Plan for General Aviation Development (the Plan)”, which contains the roadmap for advanced air mobility (AAM) operational development and the development of the low-altitude economy, where drones, eVTOLs and flying cars will take to the skies below 3,000ft in increasing numbers.

A crucial element in the plan is the development of local eco-systems by cities and regions – as vehicle purchasers and infrastructure providers. According to a recent Huxui news service report: “As of the end of May 2024, 29 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities have included relevant content on “low-altitude economy” in the 2024 government work report, including Beijing, Guangdong, Anhui, Sichuan, Hunan, Jiangxi, Jiangsu, Shaanxi, Chongqing, Yunnan, Hainan, Shandong, Henan, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Liaoning, Fujian, etc.”

There is now a major AAM infrastructure development programme underway in key cities and regions along with the publication of new standards and procedures (including new vertiport standards), to guide infrastructure developers.  In January this year the CAAC held a video conference to publicize the Rules on the Safety Management of Civil Unmanned Aircraft (CCAR-92), developed to complement the Interim Regulations on the Management of Unmanned Aircraft Operations.  This is one of the latest regulatory stepping stones to the development of a nationwide Civil UAS Operation Management System (UOMS), “which will have several suppliers who will provide registration, alerts or aircraft location services, among others,” according to an ECAC briefing document. “Its objective is to integrate the UOMS system within the ATM system and the system responsible for general aviation. An interface between the cloud containing all drone flight information and UAS operations has been one of the tasks carried out for its development.”

Passenger-carrying services are a key part of the strategy. While the initial eVTOL services are mainly tourist flights, more regular commercial services – which will scale up in frequency and network development – are planned for initial operations in the third quarter of 2024.

This is currently a time of intense AAM market development in China as the foundations of the first vertiports are being put in place and trial flights scaled up. Luogang Park in Hefei, Anhui, a former airport, is now host to daily Ehang EH-216 flight tests, according to Huxui, and there are plans to open routes within the park and build two vertiports there.

The regional eco-systems include operational facilities alongside maintenance and training centres. Local authorities are offering AAM companies attractive incentives to set up shop locally.

“In December 2023, the Government of Shenzhen, including seven municipal government departments, announced a series of incentives that aim to cultivate enterprises in the low-altitude economy, encourage technological innovation, expand low-altitude flight application scenarios, and improve industrial supporting facilities,” according to 2004 briefing paper from Airport Council International. “Rewards will be given to newly established low-altitude economy enterprises that engage in the research and development (R&D) and manufacturing of eVTOLs and the R&D and manufacturing of core components and commercial operations. Annual subsidies up to CNY20million (USD2.8million) per enterprise will be given to support the technological transformation of low-altitude economy enterprises and to encourage R&D of key industrial technologies. For each enterprise opening domestic routes, the annual reward is up to CNY6million (USD840,000). A one-off reward of CNY1million (USD140,000) will be granted for each newly established cross-border route between Shenzhen and Hong Kong”

Meanwhile, a China Daily report of late May 2024 said that Guangdong province has drafted a 2024-2026 plan to develop a low-altitude hub in the province which will generate revenues exceeding 300 billion yuan (USD41.4 billion). The plan aims to establish a low-altitude eco-system featuring coordinated development between three key cities — Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Zhuhai. The plan proposes to explore and open low-altitude air routes between Guangdong and Hainan provinces.

The size of China’s low-altitude economy exceeded 500 billion yuan (USD 69.15 billion) in 2023, up by 33.8 per cent year on year, according to a report by CCID consulting, a think tank under China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, published in April 2024. The report said that the country’s civilian drone sector expanded to nearly 120 billion yuan last year, while revenue from the eVTOL sector rose 77.3 percent year-on-year to 980 million yuan in 2023. The report estimates that the eVTOL sector will be worth 9.5 billion yuan in 2026, fuelled by the accelerated issuance of airworthiness certifications by authorities.

  • As of February this year, there were more than 57,000 enterprises in China’s low-altitude economic sector, according to CCID consulting and the government hopes the low altitude economy will grow to 2 trillion yuan by 2030.The CAAC at the start of 2024 said that there were nearly 1.27 million registered unmanned aerial vehicles across the country at the end of last year, up 32.2 percent year on year, and civilian drones flew a total of 23.11 million hours in the country last year, an increase of 11.8 percent compared to 2022.

For more information

(Image: AutoFlight demonstrated at the start of 2024 an eVTOL flight service between the southern Chinese cities of Shenzhen and Zhuhai – Autoflight)

Share this:
D-Fend advert. Click for website