Alibaba Group Holding has launched its first trial drone deliveries in Beijing, while its rival, Amazon.com, Inc., is still struggling to obtain regulatory approval for a similar program in the U.S.
The Chinese e-commerce giant, which was recently accused of making illegal business deals on its platforms, has partnered with Shanghai YTO Express Logistics to deliver ginger tea packets to 450 Chinese customers, who have volunteered for the drone-delivery tests, Bloomberg reported, citing an e-mailed statement from Alibaba.
The report also said that remote-controlled helicopters were used to deliver 50 parcels from Alibaba’s Taobao Marketplace in Beijing Wednesday, before conducting similar tests in Shanghai and Guangzhou. If tested successfully without any government intervention, drone deliveries will significantly boost the e-commerce industry in China, where only a fifth of the airspace is allowed for civilian use, though several challenges remain, according to Bloomberg.
“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, told Bloomberg. “Key regulations regarding flight altitude, accountability for accidents have not been established yet. There’s still a long way to go before drone can really be commercial used in China.”
Although Seattle-based Amazon.com first came up with the idea of drone deliveries, it is still awaiting approval from the U.S. government. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos had said, in 2013, that the company’s drone delivery service, called “Prime Air,” could launch within four or five years, The Telegraph reported.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced Tuesday that it had granted eight more exemptions for the commercial use of small drones in the country, Reuters reported.