The skies are filling

Airline passenger traffic is rising in the United States. Fast. In the next 20 years, the estimates are that there will be half again as many people flying as there are today in America. 

By the end of the next decade, the estimate is that over 1,000,000,000 people will fly in America — that’s three trips for every American on average. The growth rate is around 2% per year, which sounds low until you compare it to the airports — already over-crowded and congested—which only have development budgets at less than 1% per year. Something has to give.

Now, let’s add in drones. We’ve all seen the demonstration flights of Amazon, Google and other services on the news. Let’s add in the medical drones that are proving very useful. How many drones are already registered? Currently the number of “legal” drones under 55 pounds are only 277,000. That number is expected to rise enormously over the next 10 years topping out as a “low estimate of 835,000” by 2023 (according to AvWeek). 

And drone pilots? Currently there are 116,000 registered drone pilots. That number will jump by 2023 to 350,000-plus.

There’s another storm brewing here, too, as city streets become more congested, the need and the advantage of drones becomes quickly commercially viable. In LA a drone can deliver plasma hospital to hospital in under 10 minutes. Traffic can take hours. 

When those time advantages kick in, with better drones being developed (including people carriers already in flight testing), the skies will become quickly crowded.

Now keep track of all that increase! The use of new GPS versions, with better accuracy, better radar and certainly better training of the FAA flight controllers is already in planning. The FAA budget for all this increase looks like doubling their budget within the next four years. 

And it is worth remembering that below a certain height, airport towers control traffic, the FAA flight controllers cannot see low altitude downtown LA or New York. New systems and controllers will need to be put in place. Then there’s the question of piracy or hijacking. The police in all these cities are already wondering what they need to train for and budget.

In the end, drones and increased commercial flights will be costly. Viable commercially? Certainly, but the taxpayer will go from admiring that novelty Amazon delivery on their doorstep within hours or ordering to wondering why their tax bill has an extra zero.


Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.