Take it with a rather large pinch of salt, but the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) – the group representing drone dealers – reckons that the economic impact of the unmanned industry will boom, if the Federal Aviation Administration meets its 2015 deadline for integrating drones into domestic airspace. Between 2015 and 2025, the report claims the industry will generate $82.1 billion and create 100,000 jobs.
While the numbers are no doubt inflated – ammunition for Washington lobbyists – it is undeniable that the unmanned sector is a “growth market”. And as the “battlespace” and “procurement space” merge together, so too will the ideological levers responsible for wide-scale legitimization be pulled.
That is, unless that are regulatory obstacles. According to Fortune:
Under the 2012 FAA Reauthorization Act, Congress ordered aviation authorities to develop a regulatory framework for the testing and licensing of commercial drones by 2015, a deadline that the FAA may not meet. The process of naming six federally approved UAS testing sites necessary for developing the kinds of technologies that will enable safe airspace integration was delayed indefinitely last year while the agency dealt with various public privacy concerns (the process resumed last month), and a variety of critical technical problems — not least of which involve “sense and avoid” technologies, which allow unmanned systems to maintain safe distances between each other as well as manned aircraft — have yet to be resolved.
The biggest big bulk of the purchasing orders actually comes from agricultural applications, rather than law enforcement or other government deployments.
Agricultural applications dwarf all other categories, the AUVSI report claims, accounting for $75.6 billion of total national economic impacts by 2025, whereas government authorities like police, firefighters, and other first responders will generate just $3.2 billion. All other applications — which range from weather and environmental monitoring, to oil and gas exploration, to aerial imaging and mapping — will also result in a $3.2 billion impact over the same period.
The Federal Aviation Administration estimates that 30,000 drones will criss-cross America’s skies by the close of the decade – leading to widespread privacy concerns.
A drone dome?
The Pentagon spent $3 billion on drones in 2012. Here’s a list of the top-12 U.S. defense contractors that are profiting from our growing unmanned planet. For more of a description, see Huffington Post.
- Boeing. $80.5 billion last year.
- Lockheed Martin. Its revenue for 2012 was $47.2 billion
- General Atomics. $652,129,000 last year.
- Northrop Grumman. The defense giant has looked to the Asia-Pacific area to boost its drone business. It has already sold drones valued at $1.2 billion to South Korea.
- AeroVironment. The Pentagon is relying on the company to develop the “Hummingbird drone,” which can hover and perch as it conducts surveillance.
- Prox Dynamics AS. The Norwegian company came up with the Black Hornet Nano, a mini helicopter that can stay in the air for 30 minutes. The Nanos have just been introduced in Afghanistan. The contract was worth $31 million.
- Denel Dynamics. South-Africa based Denel Dynamics pulled in $68,228,037 in 2012.
- SAIC. SAIC is currently working with the Pentagon on producing underwater drones to combat the threat of submarines.
- Israeli Aerospace Industries
- General Dynamics