E-comm giant plans heavy-duty drones

DroneChinese online retailer JD.com plans to develop heavy-duty drones capable of carrying a tonne or more for long-distance deliveries.

It says it will test the drones on a network it is developing in the northern Chinese province of Shaanxi. The drones will carry consumer goods to remote areas and take farm produce to the cities.

JD.com says it made its first deliveries to customers using smaller drones in November. Other e-commerce brands including Amazon.com also are experimenting with drones for delivery.

”We envision a network that will be able to efficiently transport goods between cities, and even between provinces,” says JD’s logistics business group chief executive Wang Zhenhui.

JD.com has a nationwide network of thousands of delivery stations manned by 65,000 employees, with 235 million regular customers.

A one-tonne payload is heavier than what most drones available now can carry, though some can carry hundreds of kilograms.

JD.com says its planned drone delivery network in Shaanxi will cover a 300km radius and include drone bases. The company will also set up an R&D campus with the Xi’an National Civil Aerospace Industrial Base to develop and make drones.

Meanwhile back home,  tensions have boiled over in Canberra over a drone safety dispute.

A coalition senator has declared he has “no confidence” in Australia’s aviation regulator over perceived inaction on the dangers of drones.

Frustrations boiled over during a Senate hearing on Tuesday as bureaucrats revealed a safety review of drones announced by the federal government last October hadn’t begun.

Coalition backbencher Barry O’Sullivan, who previously worked as an air crash investigator, has suggested the sale of drones be frozen until regulations are in place to ensure their safety.

He warns it’s a matter of time before a drone crashes into a plane if nothing is done.

But his concerns were repeatedly downplayed by Civil Aviation Safety Authority acting boss Shane Carmody, who insists there’s no evidence to suggest a risk of collision, or to suggest existing regulations are insufficient.

“You need evidence? You want a drone to strike an airplane before you take some measures here?” Senator O’Sullivan told the hearing.

“I find your defence of these matters almost offensive.

“I’ve got no confidence in your administration.”

Labor’s Glenn Sterle also lost his patience, declaring Carmody’s evidence a “load of crap”.

“You’re really starting to annoy me now Carmody,” he said.

The heated exchange ended with Senator O’Sullivan telling Carmody he didn’t want to hear from him anymore.

In a rare display of bipartisanship, coalition and Labor senators demanded answers from aviation safety officials as to why authorities were moving so slowly.

The hearing was told the review by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, announced in October, was still months away from finalising its terms of reference.

“We’re eight months from the announcement and we don’t have a terms of reference?” Senator O’Sullivan said.

“We’ve allowed 50,000 of these up into airspace while we’re having a think about how they should operate.

“I’m trying to see if I’m the only one concerned about this.”

Coalition backbencher Chris Back said recreational drones were being used by Islamic State with devastating effect.

“(It) causes us to be concerned somebody with ill intent could do that in front of an aircraft landing or taking off at one of our major airports.”

Air traffic policy general manager Jim Wolfe insisted CASA was in a state of ongoing review on the matter, awaiting an international review on drone safety.

“It’s not as if the topic is not under continuous review,” he said.

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