One of the more interesting changes in aviation today revolves around present and future drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). UAVs are not just niche aircraft that might be used in a few places by a few aviation users such as special military ops. UAVs are here to stay and the potential uses are mind-boggling.
Yes, they will be—already are—used by the military in many roles. In fact, it is difficult to find a military role for which UAVs can’t be used. The main advantages are manufacturing and operating costs, and the big-boy of all advantages, reduced risk to personnel.
Reduced personnel risk means UAVs could be used for missions which would be unacceptable in a manned aircraft. Espionage is one example that pops immediately to mind. If we’d had a UAV in 1960, Francis Gary Powers need not have been on board and the UAV could have been demolished remotely once hit. Those of you who remember will realize what a huge international debacle this might have avoided.
UAVs can come in sizes ranging from hummingbird to Pterodactyl. There seems to be no reason they can’t be used as bombers. Border patrol is a cinch with UAVs. It would be harder to determine what UAVs can’t do, than what they can do.
Would passengers ride in a single-pilot airliner with, perhaps, UAV capabilities just in case something happened to the sole human pilot? Or would they ride in UAV airliners with no on-board pilot at all? Right now, there are serious studies on these questions taking place. Will the time come when UAVs are mixed in with manned aircraft shooting ILS approaches at your airport?
Even if passengers refuse to ride UAVs, will FedEx et al use UAVs to transport freight worldwide? Will airborne traffic reports come from UAVs? Will forest fires be doused by fire-bombing UAVs? Will we spray cotton and fertilize rice with agricultural UAVs?
Before you decide which task can’t be done by a UAV, ask yourself, “Why not?”
There is also the UAV advantage that is much in mind but seldom mentioned in public. Some wonder if UAVs will eliminate the trouble and costs of dealing with pilot and flight attendant unions. Please notice that I’m not making a judgment about the merits of this, but just mentioning that some are taking this into consideration.
How will some or all of this change your airport? I don’t know the answer to this question but have a feeling that airports better get ready.
What a great time to be an observer. Aviation is changing faster and in more ways than at any time in my lifetime.