High airspace continues to be transformed by new innovations, with engineers now designing and building aerial vehicles that can operate persistently at altitudes higher than 60,000 feet.  New systems capable of operating in low atmospheric density airspace, such as sophisticated high altitude, long endurance vehicles, airships, and supersonic/hypersonic aircraft, are already in operation around the world.

The growing availability of these kinds of aerial vehicles is matched by increasing demand to support a variety of civilian operations, including remote sensing to improve agricultural productivity; high altitude platforms to assist countries dealing with the impacts of climate change; supersonic and hypersonic aircraft to transport people and goods around the globe more quickly; and quasi-stationary airships that can deliver low-cost broadband internet services.  These advances have created vast opportunities for technological innovation and rapid growth in higher airspace.

But the standards and practices that ensure safety and security at lower altitudes are not in place for activities in higher airspace.  Expanding the existing aviation ecosystem to take full advantage of the opportunities in higher airspace requires new thinking.  To address this, President Biden in February 2023 directed the State Department to lead an effort to help establish global norms for civil aviation operations in higher airspace.  Together with our partners in the International Civil Aviation Organization we are taking concrete steps to address the challenges and opportunities in this burgeoning area.

Today, the United States, together with Canada, the European Union and its Member States, Japan, and the United Kingdom are calling upon ICAO to prioritize work on higher airspace operations, accelerate efforts to identify solutions for manned and unmanned aviation traffic in that airspace, and use the coming year to advance important technical work in this area.  Developing standards for higher airspace operations in this fast-paced, rapidly changing environment is a global priority.  This is just the beginning.  We look forward to working with ICAO partners on this effort.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future