Supporters of integrating unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) into the National Airspace System (NAS) recently gained new ground with the release of a study on the job market impact of such an initiative. The report, requested by Rep. Buck McKeon, co-chairman of the Congressional Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Caucus, estimates that opening domestic airspace to civil UAV operations would lead to the creation of more than 23,000 jobs over the next 15 years.
The findings of the study, released by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), could catch the attention of Congress and put pressure on the FAA to accelerate their efforts. This is especially true for the representatives of those states with considerable unmanned aircraft system (UAS) market participation, such as California, Florida, Maryland, and Virginia. Even so, significant employment growth would not occur until non-military demand could support an independent market, which AUVSI predicts would take at least five years. Until that time workforce levels will reflect Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security spending.
AUVSI suggests the first jobs would open up in the primary UAS market, that is, among those companies already involved in the UAV mission. Of these, producers of micro, miniature, and small unmanned aircraft systems would be the first to benefit as the FAA already has plans to integrate the platform as early as 2012. Its level of success will likely determine whether, and at what pace, larger aircraft are brought into the mix. Growth in the primary market would then lead to jobs in the secondary market, comprised of UAS component and subsystem manufacturers, and extend to “all the other support personnel required to run a business.” In all, the employment opportunities could total more than $1.6 billion in wages in the next 15 years.
For all size UAVs it is likely that a leasing market will precede ownership and operation by non-military entities. AUVSI notes that a few companies already fill that niche, including The Insitu Group and Evergreen Unmanned Systems. According to Steven Reid, the vice president for unmanned aircraft systems at AAI Corporation, “many federal agencies don’t have the infrastructure to acquire UAVs, but they still want to make use of the technology.” The same could be said of a future commercial sector, especially for emergency-response, research, and other organizations that don’t need the aircraft regularly.
So how exactly can UASs benefit the civilian and commercial sectors? According to AUVSI, non-military applications range from border surveillance and disaster response to freight transportation and sporting event coverage. To provide an example, when Haiti was struck by the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in January, an RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV deployed under Operation Unified Response to aid in the relief efforts. In this mission it provided aerial photography that helped identify transportation routes for relief and medical assistance, potentially threatening landslides, and the extent of structural damage. UASs clearly have the potential — what’s left to be determined is if the gains outweigh the risks of increasingly crowded skies.
Rob Panos, Research Associate
Find Archived Articles: