Alibaba Drone Test Said to Prompt Concern From China Authorities

Chinese authorities are reviewing rules governing drone flights after concluding Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. violated regulations with a promotion to deliver goods remotely, according to people familiar with the matter.

A meeting of military and civil-aviation authorities found that Alibaba never sought military permission for the Beijing flights, which were deemed a security risk, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the gathering wasn’t made public. Alibaba and its partner in the Feb. 4 deliveries, Shanghai YTO Express Logistics Co., said at the time the deliveries complied with the necessary rules.

Asia’s largest Internet company partnered with Shanghai YTO to deliver ginger tea packets to Chinese customers in a one-time test, and has no plans for a broader drone-delivery program. Nonetheless, new restrictions may stunt the budding commercial drone industry in China, where four-fifths of airspace is controlled by the military.

“We are looking into this as the delivery is arranged by our logistics partner,” Rachel Chan, a spokeswoman for Alibaba, said in an e-mailed statement Tuesday. Ren Xue, YTO’s Shanghai-based spokesman, declined to comment.

The meeting on drones was attended by officials from the military, the civil aviation authority and the Beijing public security bureau. New rules resulting from the meeting were expected to be issued soon, the people said.

50 Packages

Faxed requests for comment went unanswered at the Beijing Public Security Bureau and the Defense Ministry today. The Civil Aviation Administration didn’t answer two calls to its press office.

Remote-controlled helicopters were expected to distribute 50 packages from Alibaba’s Taobao Marketplace in Beijing on Feb. 4, and move to Shanghai and Guangzhou the following two days. Alibaba spokeswoman Jia Yun declined to say whether all the Beijing deliveries had gone ahead. Inc. has begun testing remote deliveries abroad after asking the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to speed approvals for drone tests in Washington state. Drone use in the U.S. was dealt a setback last month after an operator lost control of a quad-copter built by Shenzhen-based SZ DJI Technology Co. and it crashed on White House grounds, according to the Secret Service.

— With assistance by Steven Yang, and Lulu Chen

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