A tremendous opportunity will soon open up for drone deliveries to homes and businesses and within a few years, we should also experience drone “Flying Cars”. A significant hurdle holding up deployment is the lack of a Drone Air Traffic Control System. It is something NASA and the FAA have been working on for a few years and in 2019 NASA is scheduled to hand over their airspace integration recommendations to the FAA. The system is expected to be called UAV Traffic Management or UTM.
Perfect—so then in 2019, the FAA will build the drone air traffic control system, right? Well, that is the big question because the FAA has their hands full and tends to take a long time to implement anything having to do with new flying vehicles. We have to keep in mind that this is an organization with a $16 billion annual budget handling 15 million flights a year with over 1 billion passengers on board! The FAA’s procedures and daily operations focus primarily on getting us from place to place in one piece and they do a really good job of that. But the FAA does not move very fast with new technologies. And whether or not they have the personnel and money available to build a Drone Air Traffic Control system is an unknown.
A Private System?
The good news is there are other options for deploying a traffic management system that allows drones to start delivering products in a safe and efficient manner. Many private companies have been researching the optimal combination of communications, collision avoidance technologies and route planning to help implement the best design. Quite a bit of money is pouring into testing by very large companies, medium sized outfits and startups.