China's heavy smog may be too much for some pilots to handle, but it's no problem for unmanned aircraft. And in its ongoing battle to crack down on the coal industry and other major sources of the toxic air pollution, the Guardian reports, the government is turning to drones.
According to the South China Morning Post, the drones are able to fly virtually undetected, allowing the Ministry of Environmental Protection to have eyes in places where local officials usually block its efforts:
"You can easily tell from the color of the smoke - black, purple and brown - that the pollution is over the limit, because if smokestack scrubbers are operating properly, only white smoke is emitted," the ministry's Yang Yipeng, showing pictures from the flight over Tangshan. "There were too many chimneys like these, and the drones also captured pictures of flames in the open air … and that is still only the tip of the iceberg."
According to Yang, the ministry's four drones, introduced in 2012 at a cost of around 8 million yuan (HK$10.1 million), are used primarily to gather evidence of environmental breaches, to monitor pollution following accidents, and to evaluate the performance of local governments in protecting the environment.
The high-resolution images were used as evidence against polluters who breached emission limits, he said.
"It was difficult for the central government's law enforcers to collect evidence of violations when they make inspection trips outside of Beijing, because locals easily recognise them and polluting factories swiftly suspend production, leaving few traces," said Yang.
Already, China Daily reports, it's allowed the ministry to resolve over 200 environment-linked cases.