Coasean Skies

Air taxis and delivery drones may soon make the airspace between 200 and 5000 feet above ground level much more valuable. How is this airspace to be regulated? In a very good new paper Brent Skorup draws on Coase, Demsetz, and Ostrom and the law, economics and history of regulated commons to suggest new approaches.

[T]he technological shock—the commercialization of air taxis—will create novel urban airspace scarcity and collective action conflicts. When intended uses conflict, how should airspace be allocated? This is an old problem: the transformation of a common-pool resource in the face of intensive new uses for that resource.

…For traditional aviation, air traffic management is centralized and relies on complex collaboration between airlines, the general aviation industry, air traffic controllers, and regulators. Aircraft routes, payload, slot fees, airport locations, billing, and safe separation between aircraft are all highly regulated components of this interconnected system. Massive economic distortions result from the regulated rationing of airspace and terminal access. Low-altitude airspace (i.e.,200 feet to 5000 feet above ground level) offers a relatively blank slate to explore new models for air transport and to avoid command-and-control mistakes made in the past in aviation.

…Section IV introduces a different idea: that the FAA instead delimit geographic tracts of low-altitude airspace and assign exclusive use licenses to those tracts via auction for a term of years. Flight path, speed, terminal locations, aircraft size, UTM technologies, and pricing choices would largely be delegated to the tract licensees. Finally, Section V explains why this approach, which draws on real-world examples from spectrum auctions and other federal asset markets, may offer more competitive UTMs and dynamic efficiencies for low-altitude air transit. This auction approach also allows aviation regulators to focus less on scientific management of airspace and UTM interoperability and more on aircraft safety, dangerous weather, and inspections.

Comments

'For traditional aviation, air traffic management is centralized and relies on complex collaboration between airlines, the general aviation industry, air traffic controllers, and regulators. Aircraft routes, payload, slot fees, airport locations, billing, and safe separation between aircraft are all highly regulated components of this interconnected system.'

Sounds impressive, until one thinks back to the previous major transport system - ships. Change a few words, and voila, you are back a century.

always i used to read smalldr articles or reviews which also clear their motive, and that is also happening with this post whic I am
reading here.

200 feet? I do not own air rights 201 feet above my land?

What if I put up a 300-foot pole? Can someone make me tear it down?

If a shoot a drone down over my property, what then?

'Can someone make me tear it down?'

If the FAA determines it is a danger to aviation? Absolutely.

For example, if you just happen to place an antenna that is 6 feet higher than allowed on the USA Today building, the FAA will get in touch with you in less than 24 hours - at least in the bad old days of the early 1990s - and in uncertain terms will tell you to bring that antenna height into compliance now.

At a minimum, for example a tower on the top of a ridge that is not on a glide path, you will be required to satisfy FAA requirements, such as a blinking light that has a back up power source so as to not endanger pilots who do not have your tower on their charts.

That may be true around major airports, but certainly false anywhere else. Building permits are done via zoning.

In accordance with 14 CFR Part 77.9, if you propose any of the following types of construction or alteration, you must file notice with the FAA at least 45 days prior to beginning construction:

any construction or alteration that exceeds an imaginary surface extending outward and upward at any of the following slopes:
100 to 1 for a horizontal distance of 20,000 ft. from the nearest point of the nearest runway of each airport described in 14 CFR 77.9(d) with its longest runway more than 3,200 ft. in actual length, excluding heliports
50 to 1 for a horizontal distance of 10,000 ft. from the nearest point of the nearest runway of each airport described in 14 CFR 77.9(d) with its longest runway no more than 3,200 ft. in actual length, excluding heliports
25 to 1 for a horizontal distance of 5,000 ft. from the nearest point of the nearest landing and takeoff area of each heliport described in 14 CFR 77.9(d);
OR any highway, railroad, waterway or other traverse way for mobile objects, of a height which, if adjusted upward as defined in 14 CFR 77.9(c) would exceed a standard of 14 CFR 77.9 (a) or (b);
OR your structure will emit frequencies, and does not meet the conditions of the FAA Co-location Policy;
OR your proposed structure will be in proximity to a navigation facility and may impact the assurance of navigation signal reception;
OR any construction or alteration exceeding 200 feet above ground level, regardless of location;
OR any construction or alteration located on an airport described in 14 CFR 77.9(d);
OR filing has been requested by the FAA.

What I said, If the guy puts a 300 foot pole on his property, he goes to zoning, unless described as above, like near an airport (including approaches to runways)

In rural areas, airplanes are supposed to stay 500 feet or more above ground level. In urban areas, airplanes are supposed to stay 1000 feet above ground levels. If you made a 490 foot tall antenna tower on your rural ranch, I think FAA would make a fuzz about it. I don't think the 500 foot (noise abatement) rule means airplanes must fly 6-700 feet AGL to make sure they never impinge in the 500 foot rule if there are wind gusts, turbulence or down drafts.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lowest_safe_altitude

Wikipedia:

"In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has the sole authority to control all "publicly owned" airspace, exclusively determining the rules and requirements for its use. Specifically, the Federal Aviation Act provides that: "The United States Government has exclusive sovereignty of airspace of the United States", but not all the airspace is "possessed" by the United States. For non-public airspace, Congress has provided authority for the FAA to purchase this non-public airspace near airports to accommodate planes taking off and landing. The "navigable airspace" in which the public has a right of transit without affecting a landowner's property rights has been set at the height of 500 ft in urban or suburban areas, and 360 feet above the surface or tallest structure in rural areas. The exact altitude(s) at which the airspace over private land becomes "public" airspace, or where the upward bounds of national sovereignty extends is often debated, but the Supreme Court rulings and space treaties are clear. A landowner's domain extends up to at least 365 feet above the ground.

"The FAA is required to pay financial compensation to property owners when their property interests are taken for overflights. Compensated landowners may then be required to waive any putative damages for interference with "air rights" in order to avoid lawsuits from future owners' nuisance claims against low flying aircraft. This is called a navigation or navigational easement.

The low cost of unmanned aerial vehicles (also called drones) in the 2000s re-raised legal questions regarding whose permission is required to fly at low altitudes; the landowner, the FAA or both. Although the FAA reestablished that navigable airspace is the space above 500 feet, the FAA also set regulations which allow drones to fly below 400 feet in order to prevent interference with planes above that height. The FAA's actions are expected to see challenges in the judiciary."

Free lunch economists reject the laws of nature.

If an moodern economist needs aircraft to be silent, aircraft will be completely silent. They reject all leftist claims that science trumps free lunch economic dogma.

Not mentioned in the cited text is what would surely be the biggest source of conflict -- the noise, noise, noise. I'd be surprised if most cities didn't seek to ban low-altitude air taxis and delivery drones if they became at all commonplace.

Somebody brought this up on MR maybe a year ago and it's the best objection I've seen.

Still, a day or too ago a larger drone was skulking among the skyscrapers around here and damned if I couldn't hear a thing. Maybe it would be okay if you kept to a _minimum_ altitude of a few hundred feet? High frequency noise, such as small propellers might make, doesn't carry well and it's not like there's any shortage of exhaust fans atop the urban landscape. So you could have little quadcopter heliports in the tops of buildings, much like the owlery at Hogwarts.

But package delivery drones would have to be much larger than current camera drones, and anything big enough to serve as an air-taxi would be on another scale entirely.

Air taxis are a whole nother thing with separate problems. But there are plenty of helicopters around here and they don't seem to be a huge noise issue. They're generally higher up. For sure, you aren't going to land something with the propulsion system of a helicopter at ground level.

Helicopters have substantial impact in the vicinity of takeoff/landing

Because their flight paths and scheduals are restricted by government central planners, who pick the losers. You are not picked as a loser, I'd say.

I'm in a center of helicopter activity. Police, news, traffic, the occasional nuclear sensor, and major hospitals with rooftop pads to the east and west.

It's just not a big deal. The nuclear survey helicopter does fly really low between the buildings, and that's noticeable.

Slocum is right that hundreds of quadcopters at ground level would be an unbelievable racket. I don't mean to try and rebut that. Not that I'd want the FAA (motto "brought to you by Boeing") regulating that.

NOMBY (not over my back yard)

Thread winner!

I’d Google hand-held EMF weapon, but I’m afraid this would land me on a watch list

You have a major premise that the FAA system is a failure that needs to be scrapped. And dismiss out of hand its appropriateness for regulating a paralel airspace -one that will be even more densely trafficed, more diversely utilized, and more subject to terrestrial interactions.

This seems to be founded on the economic distortions you refer to. Id be curious to hear how this is avoided and still effectively regulate such a complex high stakes space.

Its not as if spectrum auctions are without their distortions (incl price fixing) and innnefficient outcomes

Free lunch economists reject the laws of nature.

That means aircraft produce no noise.

Aircraft do not occupy any space.

That means you can draw any lines you want and the invisibly hand will move millions of aircraft along those lines with no pest noise, no pesky collisions, and most of all, no costly transponders with unique ID on any aircraft.

Note, every air traffic control modernization has been held up by opposition to owners of aircraft pay for transponders dictated by government.

We are rapidly coming up on a deadline that will potentially ground half of all aircraft from 80% of US airspace, based on the slow pace of private owners installing the minimum ADS-B Out equipment. January 1, 2020

Instead of economists calling for more spending on capital for Next-gen, economists call for cutting costs, ie,, paying fewer worker less in wages, and eliminating regulations that require costly regulations, and then turning things over to for profits, which will allow lots more aircraft to fly anywhere any time. They claim it works great everywhere air traffic control is privatized, ignoring the fact in those nations, almost no one can own or fly an aircraft without being favored in some way by government. Ie, at least half the aircraft in the US would never get in the air in those nations.

Won't be widely adopted because the energy requirements are too high

I don't think the energy requirements are particularly high for most drones. Certainly not when you factor in the inefficiency in delivering many packages involved in navigating through traffic.

Now it's possible an air taxis would be different. But, even there, electric motors are vastly more efficient than IC motors. So, the energy costs probably aren't prohibitively high for an electric air taxis. Granted, an electric air taxis is going to be limited by the need to frequently recharge.

Reminds me of the radio spectrum auctions a while ago.

Spectrum auctions, which are competing for mere radio bandwidth, are unable to avoid accusations of price fixing, picking winners and losers, and pitting large incumbent carriers against smaller companies and upstarts. And in the end there is ongoing squabbles about standards, technology roll outs, interference with other uses, interoperability issues etc.

Just like every government-auctioned privatized service monopoly ever.

I cannot imagine how the auctioning of delivery drone and air taxi zones doesn't end up much much worse. We are almost guaranteed to end up with some hybrid flavor of two scenarios: (1) monopolistic large enterprises dominate in anti-competitive throttled airspaces; private captive fiefdoms that are deliberately designed not to play well with others. And (2) anarchic chaos with little coherence, no accountability, or impossible to create across-border interoperability.

In both cases, the public eventually begs the government to intervene.

"Just like every government-auctioned privatized service monopoly ever."

"In both cases, the public eventually begs the government to intervene."

I think you should back those broad accusations up with some actual evidence to support them.

I've backed them up with just as much evidence as the OP provided for their assertion that the FAA model is broken and inappropriate.

So we have two choices, we can try and re-litigate the entire privatization argument here, or you can deal with the specifics of that argument w/r/t this specific issue. I have laid out my case above with enough granularity to initiate the conversation.

I would hope at last you can stipulate challenges in the privatization model and its examples of flawed and failed implementations. Including critiques of the radio auctions that I already cited above.

"I've backed them up with just as much evidence as the OP provided for their assertion that the FAA model is broken and inappropriate."

They are floating an idea with a 30 page paper behind it. Furthermore, their statement:

"For traditional aviation, air traffic management is centralized and relies on complex collaboration between airlines, the general aviation industry, air traffic controllers, and regulators. Aircraft routes, payload, slot fees, airport locations, billing, and safe separation between aircraft are all highly regulated components of this interconnected system."

Is clearly just a statement of fact.

"Massive economic distortions result from the regulated rationing of airspace and terminal access."

This is the only statement that it is an opinion. And there is a large amount of literature pointing to the fact that monopolies tend to distort pricing.

You've countered with a couple of opinions. If you can't back them up, that's fine. We will all treat them as a couple of opinions from a guy on the internet. But at the very least, you might try to lay out a reasoned argument for them, even if you can't find some other supporting arguments.

"Massive economic distortions result from the regulated rationing of airspace and terminal access." And that's the opinion the OP here chose to highlight. Laying the gauntlet to say the least.

Again, I've already given you enough to debate. You can either spend more of our time focusing on the meta-argument - and you know damn well we can spend all day trading URLs - or you can commence to debating the case at hand.

"Just like every government-auctioned privatized service monopoly ever."

Ok, i'll counter with private air freight package delivery. The Carter administration dropped the Federal price controls and exclusivity requirements. The cost of air freight delivery dropped and the amounts soared.

Curious choice, inasmuch as the air freight industry operates in the embrace and care of the centrally regulated air traffic and airport system.

"...a different idea: that the FAA instead delimit geographic tracts of low-altitude airspace and assign exclusive use licenses to those tracts via auction for a term of years."

Oh, centralized government control and licensing is a different and new idea ?? Same old taxi licensing economic concept.

Exactly. The devil in the details are (1) how the auctions are structured, and (2) how the government oversees the regulation of the auctioned now privately managed industry.

There will still be government imposed requirements and boundaries. the question is, do we end up with a closed fiefdom system like taxis (or parking meters), or a comparatively chaotic non-standardized gumbo like radio spectrum.

Or do we stick with the orderly, predictable, and safe and commercially successful air traffic control system? Which, despite its heavy hand of government, has managed to allow a degree of competition and profitability among its participants over a period spanning decades.

I'm not sure I see why "low" airspace needs to be regulated at all. It's 3-D space--there's plenty of room!

It's not like surface traffic, where there are constraints of road capacity. Not are there the high-speeds, human passengers, and massive fuel consumption that require tight control for passenger airline flight paths.

If these are just drones carrying packages, isn't it enough that they be programmed with algorithms to simply avoid collisions, perhaps slowing down when they get within a certain distance of another drone and following a predictable avoidance pattern? If things get too crowded at 200 feet, program some drones to fly at 210 feet. Too crowded at 210, then 220.

Oh there's plenty to argue about.

Who gets priority if they both arrive to delivery at the same time? Who has to take the higher (and thus more expensive) route? How to manage traffic around busy ports and hubs - which in fact could reach physical carrying capacity? How to deal with existing legacy air traffic such as around airports (including small private) and helipads (including hospitals and private)? What technology and protocols for traffic to communicate with each other? How to deal with protected airspace, such as above FBI offices? How to prevent use as weapons for terror and as crime devices? What is the system for assigning liability in accidents? The list goes on and on.

And don't forget, the space is also for air taxis carrying humans (and presumably larger freight).

Okay, many of the things on your list--"FBI protected airspace" and so on--are not scarcity issues, which is what I thought we were discussing.

"Who has to take the higher (and thus more expensive) route?"

With gas-hungry passenger airlines crossing oceans and continents, this is a huge deal. With an electric drone carrying a 5-lb pizza delivery a few blocks, going up an extra 10 feet to avoid a collision is no big deal.

"What technology and protocols for traffic to communicate with each other"

I'll give you this one, although I'm still not sure government regulation is necessary here. Maybe if the growing drone delivery industry isn't able to agree on a protocol the government could step in. Let's wait and see if it's a problem first.

"How to manage traffic around busy ports and hubs"

Sounds like busy ports could probably set their own rules, although I'm not sure why "first come first serve," with some allowance for high-priority deliveries, wouldn't end up being the default at most such locations.

I guess I see this more like busy sidewalks in New York than like air traffic corridors. Nobody "governs" how people walk on the crowded NY sidewalks--there are some common behaviors and courtesies that emerge naturally and seem to work fine.

Actually, I think it would work even better than NYC sidewalks, because there is just so much room in 3-D space. Take the NYC sidewalk network, and replicate it every 10 feet up to 5000 feet, and you have lots of walking room.

Your rationalization sounds reasonable, until you get in a room with Amazon and FedEx to decide who gets to hold their course and who moves out of the way.

"Left them there, standing un-budged in their tracks"... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZmZzGxGpSs

Sidewalks are of course regulated as soon as they intersect with other modes. The unwritten norms, meanwhile, work fine more or less, until a few tourists stagger along slowly gaping down the middle of the path. Then all hell breaks loose.

Currently private aircraft using visual flight rules can fly within 500 feet of the ground and property (unless otherwise restricted). These pilots won't be able to see drones. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_flight_rules

>Air taxis

You're adorable.

How about Neptunian hovercraft? Are there any papers written about how we're going to deal with those yet? Gotta stay ahead of these things, ya know

Erm... if the FAA system works why shouldn't we try to replicate it?

The proposal to try something different "just because" sounds like libertarian trotsyism (or just 16year old guys with jumpy hormones)

Thanks for cutting to the chase where I had been asking more obliquely.

FWIW, theOP did declare that the FAA causes massive distortions, so that's sort of takes us in rationale from "just because" to "because we said so"

Create a boundary above property but below air transport, allow a drone free-for-all where the fittest survive.

Done and done.

The hype about 'air taxis' has got to stop. There's a reason why we don't like to fly in the region between 200 and 500 ft - actually, many reasons. For one, in that region ballistic parachutes don't work. So a mechanical failure means you will likely die. These quadcopter-based 'air taxis' are very susceptible to failure.

Flying that low is also very noisy to people on the ground (especially from quadcopters, which use small, high velocity propellers). It's also the regime where there is major turbulence.

Imagine a city where a fleet of air taxis is in the sky when a thunderstorm rolls in. How you would like to be emergency-grounded somewhere away from your destination every time the weather gets a little iffy? Or, if people are determined to get home anyway, how will you like it when the sky is raining metal?

These new 'air taxi' quadcopters powered by electricity also have time aloft measured in minutes, not hours. This means people who fly in them will always be on the ragged edge of range, which is also dangerous.

Landing a human-sized air taxi anywhere in a city will not only create a racket, it will blow FOD off the ground and into everything around it - including its own engines.

Quadcopter-based air taxis will not be certifiable for commercial use. They do not have positive stability, or passive safety. An airplane can glide to a landing if it loses an engine. A helicopter can auto-rotate to the ground if it loses an engine. If a quadcopter loses an engine at 200 feet, it will do one thing - crash. They are inherently unsafe vehicles, and totally impractical for anything other than hobby flying by courageous individuals.

New aviation 'breakthroughs' show up in the news every year or two. The Moller Skycar, various other flying cars... You may notice that none of them have amounted to anything. There's a reason for that - aviation is hard, safety is difficult to attain, and government certification is extremely difficult to get.

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