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Chinese Media: China’s Low-Altitude Flight Sector as an Engine of Economic Growth

Recently, Chinese media have frequently talked about the new “low-altitude sector” becoming a new growth engine for China’s economy. The term “low altitude” refers to low-altitude flight technology, including drones and electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles (eVTOLs). The following is a combined summary of two reports, by Xinhua and People’s Daily, respectively.

The low-altitude economy is a typical representative of new productive forces [within the Chinese economy]. This year, the “low-altitude economy” was mentioned in the central government’s work report. It will definitely reach a trillion-yuan-level (US $140 billion) industrial scale.

The low-altitude economy can use drones in many applications. These include “dropping take-out food from the sky,” sowing and fertilizing farmland, and delivering goods to the mountains. Electric Take-off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft is one of the hottest fields. A 5-seat eVTOL recently conducted a flight from Shenzhen to Zhuhai crossing over both land and sea … reducing travel time [between the two cities] from 2 hours on the ground to 20 minutes in the air.

Many Chinese cities are building up their low-altitude economies. In April of this year Harbin City officially began construction of its large-scale industrial park for production of unmanned helicopters. The city will build a large-scale unmanned helicopter research institute, a “conversion base” for transforming manned aircraft into unmanned aircraft, and an unmanned aircraft production base. The city’s new facilities are expected to achieve an annual output value of 1 billion yuan, with the surrounding ecosystem producing 5 billion yuan of output value.

Since the beginning of this year, Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, has seen 251 new low-altitude economic projects started, with a total planned investment of over 73 billion yuan. Hefei, Anhui Province, has proposed to build an eVTOL integrated manufacturing plant. Anhui Province will build a low-altitude Flight Service Platform that integrates functions such as flight monitoring, airspace management, flight planning, navigation information, meteorological information, data management, and statistical analysis. Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, has 30 drone-related companies, covering parts of the industrial chain such as R&D, manufacturing, training, examination, operation service, and industry applications. Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, is host to several well-known domestic eVTOL manufacturers.

According to data released by the Civil Aviation Administration, as of the end of 2023, China had more than 1.26 million drones, a 32 percent increase from the previous year. In 2023, civilian drones accumulated more than 23 million flight hours. The “China Low-altitude Economy Development White Paper (2024),” recently released by the Smart Equipment Industry Research Center of CCID Consulting, shows that China’s civilian drone industry reached 117.43 billion yuan in 2023, a year-on-year increase of 32 percent. According to the paper, the eVTOL industry will see its first cycle of breakthrough commercialization in 2024, with the industry reaching a scale of 9.5 billion yuan by 2026 [in sales].

1. Xinhua, April 28, 2024
2. People’s Daily, May 5, 2025