Is the World Ready for Unmanned Aerial Systems in Civilian Airspace?
It’s not a new technology. It already exists. The technology of Unmanned Aerial Systems or UAS has been extensively used by the military in the “organized airspace” of war.
UAVs Sharing the Same Skies of Passenger jets
The challenge lies in convincing the aviation regulators of the world that the UAS technology can be utilized in a way that is safe for a pilot to fly not one but many aircraft at once in the same open skies used by passenger jets, from a single control station on the ground or even from a different continent.
Reliable Command and Control Links
While such a challenge is something engineers would really look forward to, it is almost unlikely that any regulator would entertain the idea of allowing a UAS flown from the ground coming remotely close to an airline full of people. However, a lot of people, especially the engineers, believe that if the command and control links are reliable, an exciting new market for aircraft systems worth billions of dollars could be opened up.
The technology of UAS is seen by different countries in different ways. There are countries that look at the technology solely as a necessary tool for combat reconnaissance. And there are also countries that look at the UAVs’ (unmanned aerial vehicles) usefulness in other functions. It’s more than just building the usual aircraft with aerospace rivets, in their usual size. The UAS requires special aircrafts built according to strict specifications.
Unmanned Aircrafts as Major Weapons
A growing number of major weapons manufacturers are designing UAVs. Currently, the major players in this field are Israel, Turkey, Russia, China, India, Iran and the USA with most of the development and manufacturing in the United States. These countries believe that unmanned aircraft are the future including autonomous fighters and bombers.
China and Israel are the biggest players outside the US. With the Israeli government urging manufacturers to be more aggressive in this area, the Israelis see their edge to be on unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) development. China, on the other hand has encouraged its aircraft manufacturers to build a market for Chinese UAVs, with the Chinese government offering cheap capital and lots of tech secrets pilfered by Chinese hackers.
UK’s Different Goal for UAS
In England, however, the British aerospace engineers are working towards another goal – and that is having the UAS flown in civilian airspace for a much more different purpose. If they achieve this, the emerging sector could open up a range of exciting new opportunities for aerospace engineers. UAS can be useful in applications ranging from security and border control, fisheries protection, agriculture, rail inspection, pipeline inspection, and the trillion-pound air-cargo market.
Australia Targets Internal Monitoring for UAS
Similarly, Australia is taking another step in a long march towards allowing UAVs to operate in civil airspace as the government commissioned the Queensland University of Technology-led Australian Research Centre for Aerospace Automation to look at how traffic controllers may have to deal with the UAVs. This came as a result of the increasing demand from bushfire monitoring to border security checks, power line surveillance and even whale tracking.
Experts from these countries share the same opinion though – that the UAVs, UCAVs and the UAS technology in general is the future. It will just depend on how it will be used by those developing and harnessing the technology.
With that, the world can expect to see more UAVs being developed in many parts of the world. What’s your industry’s take on this?