UNMANNED AIRCRAFT: An Industry Just Bursting to Take Off
Commercializing Unmanned Aircraft.
For more than a decade the world has become well acquainted with the capabilities unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) provide in warfare, from “eyes in the sky” reconnaissance to delivery platforms for Hellfire missile strikes.
But the pent up demand for commercial unmanned aircraft in the United States is still waiting for federal regulators to ease rules banning most UAS from operating in the national airspace. Until they do, a predicted flood of new employment and business opportunities for UAS designers, manufacturers, instructors, mechanics, evaluators and operators will have to wait.
One business sector, the film and television industry, got some relief recently when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which oversees air safety, gave permission to six production companies to fly UAS over movie sets – but under strict limits.
Meanwhile, unmanned aircraft – some tiny enough to fit in the palm of your hand — are being sought for a variety of non-military activities: inspecting infrastructure in dangerous to reach places like suspension bridges and oil drilling platforms; monitoring the migrations of land and sea creatures; keeping an eye on crops and livestock; patrolling vast stretches of desert, forest and ocean; supplying video and still photography for the real estate, travel and motion picture industries and enhancing real time news coverage by television stations or Internet web sites.
The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the industry trade group for all things robotic including UAS, says unmanned aircraft could generate more than $82 billion in economic impact and 100,000 jobs in the United States in just the first decade after UAS are integrated into the national airspace.
But it may take more than a decade before drones are delivering pizzas because of two thorny issues: public concern over privacy and civil liberties; and government concerns about safety.
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