Will ATC Privatization Accelerate UAS Home Delivery Systems?

By William D. Ezzell

This week, President Trump announced his intention to push for the privatization of the U.S. Air Traffic Control system. In his trademark style, the president said that the ATC system was “ancient, broken, antiquated, horrible” and those previous efforts to update systems were a “waste of money.” 

The President raised legitimate concerns in this ongoing debate. ATC privatization could indeed transform the landscape and best position the aerospace industry as technology advances. Nevertheless, the speech triggered multiple discussions of the need for privatization to accelerate the UAS industry. In particular, home delivery platforms.

But would privatization accelerate the entry of UAS home delivery systems? As many observers agree, such hope is overly optimistic. With or without privatization, the FAA would still be the regulator. It took over 4 years for Part 107 to finally take effect. Home delivery would necessitate an additional regulatory framework, which requires the unpredictable Notice of Proposed Rulemaking process. A federal agency will issue an NPRM when the government wishes to add, remove, or change a rule or regulation as part of the rulemaking process. This is a new technology in unchartered territory with a nearly incomprehensible number of ramifications. This NPRM would likely take a few months – at best.

Bottom line: there is no quick fix. The UAS market remains in its infancy. NASA is currently studying unmanned traffic management. However, these recommendations won’t be out until 2019. Companies would have to conduct extensive due diligence to determine if managing a UAS ATC system is worthwhile and profitable. The NPRM and regulatory hurdles, the evolution of the private sector, and the initial research are just some of the challenges in UAS home delivery. We will likely get there. Just don’t hold your breath.

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