Act Sets the Stage for Privatization of US Airspace

By Harrison Wolf, Drone Project Lead, World Economic Forum

Major changes to the management of the US airspace were approved Wednesday by the Senate, setting the stage for the most dramatic shift in oversight since the creation of the FAA.

The act provides funding and deadlines for the integration of a new enabling technology called Unmanned Traffic Management. Unmanned Traffic Management is created and managed by private companies autonomously. This sets a precedent for a transition to private management of national airspace.

The act sets the stage for the privatization of US airspace. It will be a slow process, but it’s where the sector is headed over the next ten years.

The act also requires all autonomous aircraft, both recreational and commercial, to provide a registered “digital license plate;” undoing a regulatory cut-out that that had allowed small drones to proliferate all over the country often unregulated and with an inability to enforce even basic regulations. This is widely seen as a move to the commercial the drone economy as a fundamental principle to enable more advanced operations over people and long distances.

The act also calls for the examination of airspace management by local municipalities in a patchwork way. This is the latest move from the Trump administration to enable local communities to have a greater say in their airspace management; a very contentious topic as the safety threshold of air travel has largely been credited to the Federal government oversight of all aspects of aviation.

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