JD.Com, one of China's biggest online retailers, announced that it plans to increase services to rural areas by building 185 drone airports in southwest China. The company had said earlier in the year that it planned to build 150 drone airports.
Earlier this year, JD.com said it would build 150 drone airports and this announcement, made at World Internet Conference held recently in Wuzhen, China and reported by various Chinese media confirms the company’s intentions.
The airports, which will help with deliveries to and from Sichuan, are expected to be finished within three years and is another effort by the company to expand into rural China.
JD.Com announced its first drone venture when it launched its commercial drone delivery program during the country's "Singles Day" in 2016.
The company also made headlines earlier this year when it offered a $15 million USD prize to the winners of a unique competition to find the best solutions for conducting widespread drone delivery services across China. Drone technology will allow the company to cut logistics costs by as much as 70% in rural areas compared with delivery by car, motorbikes or vans.
JD.Com has a drone research and development facility in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province, where the focus is on developing “heavy-lift drones”. The R&D center is expected to have more than 100 staff by the end of 2017 as JD.Com expands its drone delivery focus.
In Shaanxi, the company plans to build a low-altitude drone logistics network that will cover a 300-kilometre radius and will include drone airbases and hundreds of routes to handle e-commerce shipments.
In nearby Sichuan Province, near Shaanxi, the company is testing drones that can fly longer distances and carry as much as 100 kilograms, compared to the company’s current drones which can carry 5 ~ 30 kilogram packages. The company expects drones capable of carrying 100 kilos to be available by early next year.
Wan Guangbo, an analyst at Changjiang Securities said that “drone deliveries are reducing costs and improving the efficiency of online shopping services, offering huge potentials. Wan added, “I believe JD will lead the global market in drone delivery services.”