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Alibaba Drones Deliver Tea To Beijing

Published on Feb 4 2015 6:45 AM in Technology

Alibaba Drones Deliver Tea To Beijing

Alibaba is making its first trial drone deliveries in China, as e-commerce rival Amazon struggles to start a similar programme in the US.

Asia’s largest Internet company is partnering with Shanghai YTO Express Logistics to deliver ginger tea packets to 450 Chinese customers who volunteered for the one-time drone tests, according to an emailed statement from Alibaba. Remote-controlled helicopters are expected to distribute 50 parcels from Alibaba’s Taobao Marketplace in Beijing, before moving to Shanghai and Guangzhou.

The flights, if successful and uncontested by authorities, would give the budding commercial drone industry a boost in China, where the military allots only a fifth of the airspace to civilian use. Amazon -- the largest Internet retailer by sales -- has begun testing remote deliveries abroad after asking the US Federal Aviation Administration to speed approvals for drone tests in Washington State.

“China is still in the initial phase of establishing regulations on commercial usage of drones. A lot of areas are still completely blank,” Zhang Qihuai, an attorney at the Beijing-based Lanpeng Law Firm, said by phone. “Key regulations regarding flight altitude and accountability for accidents have not been established yet. There’s still a long way to go before drones can really be commercially used in China.”

Alibaba and YTO said that they have notified Chinese aviation authorities about the flights as required by regulation and believed that the deliveries complied with all existing rules.

YTO has no specific plans to promote drones on a large scale, and lot of issues must first be addressed, said Ren Xue, the company’s Shanghai-based spokesman.

Bloomberg News, edited by ESM

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