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Aerial highways, the future of drone deliveries?

Aerial highways, the future of drone deliveries? And, who should own them?

Will aerial highways become the way of the future when it comes to drone deliveries? The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has teamed up with Airspace Link, Inc., a Detroit-based provider of drone-flight authorization and management solutions, and the city of Ontario, Calif. to create aerial highways for deliveries by drone, and other unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operations.

Aerial highways, the future of drone deliveries?

Together with Airspace Link, the city of Ontario is working on establishing the most efficient and safest aerial highways for drone drones to make deliveries to consumers.

In anticipation of a world in which drone deliveries will be routine, the aerial highways are being created in the skies over Ontario Ranch, through Airspace Link’s AirHub for Government program.

“There are lots of factors that have to be taken into consideration,” said Gianluca Pesce, the company’s marketing coordinator, according to the Daily Bulletin. “We look at a variety of ‘static’ elements, including the number of people and homes the drones will be flying over, as well as how many buildings and businesses there are.”

Aerial highways, the future of drone deliveries?

Ontario International Airport and the city of Ontario are working together with the FAA to make more airspace available for drone deliveries and other drone operations through the AirHub system. The city will pay Airspace Link $40,000 per year for the system, which might eventually allow companies such as Amazon, Wing, UPS Flight Forward, and others to make deliveries by drone.

The concept behind AirHub is to route the aerial highways over sparsely populated areas so that even in the event of a drone crash, the risk to people and structures on the ground would be limited.

“Cities and counties can import lots of other static things into the system as well,” Pesce said. “That could include police stations, fire stations, courthouses and jails — places cities wouldn’t want drones flying over.”

The city of Ontario has allocated a 13-square-mile Ontario Ranch area with around 3,500 homes as the test area for the drone operations, said Jimmy Chang, Ontario’s director of broadband operations. The area south of freeway 60 is also home to more than 100 million square feet of industrial manufacturing and distribution space.

“We’re a gateway to the logistics sector here in Southern California,” Chang said. “We have many distribution centers in Ontario, and we have the airport as well. I see this as leading to new opportunities. And with COVID-19 going on … I think we’ll see even more.”

Chang added that the AirHub system would provide drone operators with a clear understanding of where drones are allowed to fly, based on local advisories from the city.

“Our entire community will be safer as a result,” he said.

DroneXL’s take on who should ‘own’ the aerial highways

While it sounds like a fantastic idea to map the airspace in great detail to allow for drone operations, I don’t think a system of aerial highways should be managed and owned by a private company. It seems to me that this should be a task for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

In the case of the city of Ontario, $40,000 per year of taxpayer money is flowing into Airspace Link’s bank accounts, so that drone operations can take place in the airspace over the town. Airspace Link’s website does not immediately make clear if drone delivery companies such as Amazon and Wing would have to pay to use the AirHub system as well, but they likely would.

Just as the FAA created the Air Traffic Organization (ATO) as a service provider for manned aviation, the agency should create its own ‘unmanned air traffic’ division to integrate drones into the national airspace safely, so that unmanned operations can become a reality sooner rather than later.

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Haye Kesteloo

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