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China's export of civilian drones surges

By Xinhua
China's export of civilian drones surges
A YTO Express mail service staff member puts a package on a drone for delivery to an address in Beijing on Feb 4. (Wang Zhuangfei / China Daily)

SHENZHEN - China exported 160,000 units of civilian drones worth 750 million yuan ($120 million) from January to May, 69 and 55 times of the same period in 2014 respectively.

According to customs in the southern city of Shenzhen, where 99 percent of China's civilian drones are exported from, a "green channel" has been set up to facilitate fast clearance of the product.

The Shenzhen-based technology firm DJI, a leading manufacturer of commercial and recreational drones for aerial photography and videography, accounts for almost 70 percent of the market share worldwide, with Europe and North America its biggest customers.

State-owned defense contractors are racing to convert their military drones so they can grab a share of the lucrative civilian market, according to industry insiders.

"Several years ago, we were only a research studio," said Ma Hongzhong, director of China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp's Unmanned Aircraft Research Institute. "But the company recently expanded it into an institute in order to use the company's cruise missile experience and expertise in drone research."

Ma's company, one of the country's defense giants, previously focused on missiles and multiple rocket launcher systems.

However, as the potential for civilian unmanned aircraft became clear and other defense companies successfully entered the market, it began to allocate substantial funds and engineering expertise to developing drones, he said.

The institute has developed a full family of unmanned aircraft, ranging from piston-powered, low-speed drones to large, high-endurance turbofan-driven versions. Its products can be employed in aerial mapping, resource surveying and pipeline and grid patrols.

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