What a car needs 40 minutes to create a drone in eight: The first inner-city drone delivery route in China was taken on Thursday in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou in operation.

Unmanned aerial vehicles automatically transport boxes of up to five kilograms each with express shipments over an eight-kilometer stretch between two landing stations.

Cooperation partners include the logistics joint venture DHL-Sinotrans and the Chinese drone manufacturer EHang. This is the first time an international logistics company operates such a drone line in China. "The dynamism of the rapidly developing Chinese market makes it the ideal place for the route," said Jack O'Neill, vice president of DHL Express in China.

The connection was specifically set up for an unspecified business customer in Songshanhu District, Guangzhou. He now has his document envelopes picked up twice a day - if necessary more often - by drone and taken to the DHL service center.

Problems with the first demonstration

The drone lands on a yellow station, which automatically opens the roof for the landing site on approach. The cargo in the form of the box is automatically unloaded and charged. The customer can - after identification via identity card and face recognition - open a flap to deliver or retrieve his shipment.

Although DHL is the first company with an inner-city route in China, it is not the first to transport its shipments with drones. Since November, the large Chinese online retailer JD.com has been delivering goods to remote destinations in certain rural areas, from where deliveries are still delivered by messenger to the respective addressee.

In more than two dozen countries, delivery services are being experimented with - or certain consignments or even urgent medical items, such as laboratory samples, are being transported by drone.

The market in China is huge. Last year saw more than 50 billion deliveries to customers - more than in the US, Japan and Europe combined. "We want to explore additional customers," said DHL Express Vice President O'Neill. But it depends on the need and the necessary permits. "That's not so fast to get." For example, China's aviation authority CAAC said there was only one pilot project on the DHL delivery route "to improve the standards and systems for drone logistics through practice".

In any case, the airspace in China is controlled by the military, which often causes problems and delays in civil air traffic. How difficult the drone business in China can be, was already evident at the opening ceremony of the delivery route at the headquarters of EHang, for which a fully automated landing site had been specially constructed to demonstrate the delivery to the invited guests with the unmanned aerial vehicle. In the short term, however, a flight ban had been issued for the area, so that the demonstration had to be canceled. "There were a few problems," O'Neill said.