Executive Briefings

Amazon, Google, Others Are Developing Private Air-Traffic Control for Drones

The commercial drone industry wants to create a privately funded and operated air-traffic control network, separate from the current federal system, to enable widespread operations at low altitudes.

Plans to accelerate such efforts, spelled out at a conference in Baltimore last week, have the backing of companies like Amazon.com Inc., General Electric Co., Boeing Co. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google. Proponents envision one day using automated cellular and web applications to track and prevent collisions among swarms of small unmanned aircraft flying a few hundred feet above the ground.

In conjunction with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, validation tests are slated over the next three months at a handful of sites. The intent is to develop a “totally different, new way of doing things,” Parimal Kopardekar, NASA’s senior air-transport technologist who first suggested the idea of an industry-devised solution, told approximately 1,000 attendees at the conference.

The coming flights are intended to explore, among other factors, how such a network would interact, when required, with the Federal Aviation Administration’s existing ground-based radars and human controllers. Another major goal is to ensure swift and easy access to data for law-enforcement agencies looking to identify errant, suspicious or hostile drones.

Limited deployment will take at least two years, experts told the conference, and significant engineering and policy hurdles could push that goal out further. But even partial success in the early stages would provide the foundation for an entirely new airspace-management model.

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Plans to accelerate such efforts, spelled out at a conference in Baltimore last week, have the backing of companies like Amazon.com Inc., General Electric Co., Boeing Co. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google. Proponents envision one day using automated cellular and web applications to track and prevent collisions among swarms of small unmanned aircraft flying a few hundred feet above the ground.

In conjunction with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, validation tests are slated over the next three months at a handful of sites. The intent is to develop a “totally different, new way of doing things,” Parimal Kopardekar, NASA’s senior air-transport technologist who first suggested the idea of an industry-devised solution, told approximately 1,000 attendees at the conference.

The coming flights are intended to explore, among other factors, how such a network would interact, when required, with the Federal Aviation Administration’s existing ground-based radars and human controllers. Another major goal is to ensure swift and easy access to data for law-enforcement agencies looking to identify errant, suspicious or hostile drones.

Limited deployment will take at least two years, experts told the conference, and significant engineering and policy hurdles could push that goal out further. But even partial success in the early stages would provide the foundation for an entirely new airspace-management model.

Read full article