SF Express has completed commercial drone deliveries after receiving China's first drone airspace licence, state media reported on Friday.
China's logistics and technology companies have announced such delivery services before but little commercial use has followed. However, there are some signs that the SF Express launch was different.
Chu Xuejian, professor of modern logistics at Shanghai University, called the granting of a drone licence to SF Express a “significant” move for the budding drone delivery sector because of China's strict controls on airspace.
The granting of the licence indicates that national regulators are now more willing to open airspace to drone delivery companies, say analysts.
“The biggest issue for drone logistics is airspace control,” said Zhang Yi, founder of iMedia Research, a market research firm.
ce climbed 5 per cent on the news, adding $1.6bn to its equity value.
SF Express, one of China's biggest logistics services, flew a fleet of drone models, some of which can carry up to 25kg and have a range of up to 100km, in the southern area of Ganzhou in Jiangxi province.
Drone deliveries are taking off in China's ecommerce market, the world's largest by sales.
SF Express completed a backdoor stock market listing in March, which made its founder China's third-richest man and bagged the company the position of most valuable company on the Shenzhen exchange, which attracts mainland China's technology IPOs.
China is home to the world's leading drone companies, such as Shenzhen-based DJI and Beijing's Ehang.
A representative of the Civil Aviation Administration of China said that the regulators are thinking of ways to support development of the drone industry.
Online ecommerce group JD.com, which is on the brink of becoming the third-biggest technology group in China, has also trialled customer deliveries over the past year.
“JD and SF Express are at the forefront of drone deliveries in China,” said John Song, China logistics sector lead at Monitor Deloitte Consulting in Shanghai. “Drones could deliver better service in cities, once the regulations are sorted out,” Mr Song added.
JD says it operates about 60 drone routes in remote parts of Beijing's municipality as well as the provinces of Sichuan, Jiangsu and Shaanxi, all of which have mountainous and remote areas.
Although JD says it has no airspace licence, the company has individual agreements with local governments and aims to build China's largest low-altitude drone logistics network in Shaanxi province.
JD's fleet has similar drone models to SF Express, but it also wants to use heavy-load drones to carry agricultural produce weighing around a tonne from remote farms to cities.