The Sky’s the Limit for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Industry

Mar 28, 2013

The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle panel at the U.S. Chamber's Aviation Summit. Left to Right: Frank Pace, President and CEO, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems; Ellen Tauscher, former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security; Wells Bennett, Visiting Fellow, Brookings Institution; Marion Blakey, President and CEP, Aerospace Industries Association. Photographer: Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), have gone from Hollywood villain to weapon of war to the subject of a 13-hour Senate filibuster. In the future, they could be put to use buzzing over farmland, looking for oil and natural resources, or even moving goods and people through the skies.

This technology has divided the country. On the one hand, many fear Skynet-controlled UAVs conquering humanity or hovering outside bedrooms. Cities like Charlottesville, VA have declared themselves drone-free zones. On the other hand, there’s strong demand to be one of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) six UAV test sites as the agency prepares to open up the nation’s airspace to civilian UAVs in 2015, because these locations could be future centers of the young civilian UAV industry.

At the U.S. Chamber’s 12th annual Aviation Summit, a panel of experts looked to alleviate some fears about UAVs and and urge policy makers to set up a sensible regulatory environment for this nascent industry.

Ellen Tauscher, former Member of Congress and former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security in the Obama administration was excited about this “phenomenal disruptive technology” but urged the UAV industry to re-introduce it to the public in “sustainable, realistic manner” that emphasizes its benefits.

As a leader in the industry, Frank Pace, President and CEO of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, said companies like his are still looking to find their place in the civilian market. Possibilities of UAV use inspecting pipelines in remote areas, monitoring fisheries, and observing areas hit by natural disasters. Pace also speculated that 30 years from now, FedEx could ask the FAA for permission to make their airline fleet, but for the market to develop, the regulatory climate has to be settled.

On this issue, Wells Bennett, a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, told the audience that the FAA needs to set up a regulatory framework that meets public concerns about privacy and safety. Right now, the public is preoccupied with privacy, which "takes a great deal of [FAA’s] focus away from safety." Tauscher noted that since the FAA’s core competency is safety, it should focus on that while working with other agencies like the Department of Justice on privacy concerns.

Once these important public policy questions are addressed, the UAV industry could thriveasThe Daily Beast’s Miranda Green reports:

A recent study by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) predicts that in a matter of years, the drone, or UAV, industry in the U.S. could produce up to 100,000 new jobs and add $82 billion in economic activity between 2015 and 2025. A federal law mandates that the Federal Aviation Administration open up the National Airspace System by 2015. As the restrictions that currently prohibit individuals from flying drones for commercial purposes melt away, drone manufacturers could see their fortunes skyrocket.

By establishing a sound regulatory environment that eases public concerns about privacy and safety, the United States has an opportunity to be a leader in an innovative new industry.

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