The United States’ (US) Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Air Traffic Management (ATM) system seeks to complement the Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) system. The UTM aims to be part of the ecosystem that will manage the operations of unmanned aircraft or drones in the US and those used by federal agencies.
Drone air traffic context
A critical part of a viable air traffic control system being established for personal drones (and eventually cargo and personal transport drones) will likely be the collaboration between research and regulatory organizations and the informed participation of thousands of experts and drone operators. For example, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Ames research facility in Silicon Valley aims to develop a knowledge base that will aid in the management of vast numbers of low-altitude drones and other airborne stakeholders within US airspace. The purpose of the UTM is to design a system that can safely and efficiently integrate tens of thousands of drones into monitored air traffic that operate in low-altitude airspace.
The UTM is centered on each drone user's anticipated flight details being shared digitally. Unlike modern air traffic control, every drone user could have access to the same situational awareness of their airspace. This principle, and the broader control of airspace utilized by drones, will become increasingly critical as drone usage expands for personal and commercial applications.
Establishing a viable and effective drone air traffic control system could ensure that drones, such as delivery drones, pose no threat to other air operations and aircraft types, especially those capable of flying at lower altitudes than commercial passenger aircraft. These aircraft include helicopters and gliders, while local airports can be deemed as being off-limits to drones due to the danger of collisions.
To further support the use of drones in urban environments, landing pads, charging stations, and drone ports could potentially be required for drones and other new aerial vehicles. Air corridors could be devised and stipulated, so that specific routes within an urban environment are used for drone deliveries, thereby reducing the potential threat to urban birdlife and infrastructure such as electricity pylons and communications equipment alongside buildings. If the regulatory environment effectively governs and promotes the use of drones in a city or town, other forms of delivery, such as those conducted by light delivery drivers and couriers, could be negatively affected due to reduced demand.
Implications of drones becoming increasingly regulated
The wider implications of maturing drone traffic regulation may include:
- Lower incidence of accidents between drones, other forms of aircraft, and installed urban infrastructure.
- A wider array of businesses using drones to engage in novel forms of B2B or B2C commercial operations.
- Novel drone platform services springing up that enable companies and individuals to subscribe to or rent drone usage/services as needed.
- The increased proliferation of drone piloting/skill development programs and courses for commercial and private users.
- Different jurisdictions taking bespoke approaches concerning how they regulate drones to promote increased investment by the sector in their cities and towns.
Questions to comment on
- Will drone deliveries replace other forms of e-commerce delivery over time?
- Name an example of a law a government can implement to ensure stricter compliance with drone air traffic regulations, which enhances public safety.
- Which industries stand to benefit the most from the increased use of drones?