Like many of you, I’m a bit of an aviation junkie. Of late my favorite drug has been UAVs for a variety of reasons. Admittedly they are not as sleek and sexy as big airliners or even private jets. They don’t carry the pure speed and maneuverability of military jets, but they sure are a major point of debate right now.
Everyone is starting to have an opinion on UAVs, whether it be as an aviation nut, or as someone concerned with privacy issues (honestly an aspect of the debate I really don’t understand, but I have nothing to hide). There was even an article on CNN this week
about a group that is working towards having commercial aircraft with no pilot.
Personally I don’t know that that will ever happen for a number of reasons. The largest being I think it will be a hard sell to most people to trust a computer at 40,000 feet. I also don’t really see the point as you will still need someone to control it. Even if one person could control two or three from the ground you are still talking about a person that will garner quite a hefty wage, but that is likely a debate for another article.
A few months back I remember reading an article about disruptive technology in aviation. Even with all of the advances made over the years, you could argue that the last truly disruptive technology development was when jet engines were first used. It completely altered the possibilities of aviation. You could carry substantially more, at a much faster rate, across much longer distances. It truly raised the ceiling on aviation.
But since that time, everything else has simply been essentially enhancing what we already have. GPS has had a tremendous impact, but it is just another form of navigation, and let’s be honest, could there be anything more potentially disruptive than taking the pilot out of the airplane?
There were various forms of lighter than air travel in the forms of balloons and gliders in full size and model form, but until the Wright Brothers successfully achieved manned, powered flight the floodgates of aviation had been held back. We may very well be at the point of such a flood again.
Just imagine the possibilities. In the small-scale you have police agencies and farmers that are already utilizing this technology to enhance their efforts. Random people are securing small UAVs just for recreational purposes, and finding any number of different capabilities.
On a much larger scale the military is already utilizing UAVs all over the world. They provide essential intelligence gathering capabilities to the war fighter that would other wise put people in great danger. I could even see future cargo aircraft having no crew on-board. Imagine how much more time and cost efficient operations would be if you didn’t have to worry about duty days, hotels, and per diem.
Naturally that would translate to the civilian cargo sector where the benefits could be even larger. FedEx and UPS pilots are some of if not the highest paid pilots in the industry. I am sure that they would both be happy to eliminate large numbers of pilots that they are paying $300,000 plus a year. The planes are already capable of doing a lot of the work themselves anyway, so how hard will it be to take the next step?
I honestly feel like we are at least 15-20 years away from any of this happening on a large-scale, but technology is adapting at a faster rate than it ever has before, so I could be wrong. Whether it is 5 years or 50 years the one thing that is certain is that UAVs have already created quite a disruption and I have a feeling they will continue to do so for a long time.