Drone alone

The Engineer

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – or drones as they’re usually dubbed by the media – are rarely out of the news these days.

And from recent reports touching on their potential use by Syria’s oppressive regime to the regular claims of civilian casualties resulting from US predator drone attacks – it’s fair to say they don’t get a particularly good press.

This is something of a problem for the aerospace sector which  is keen to grow the sector but claims that the development of the technology, and its potential use in a host of non-military applications, is being hampered by regulations limiting the use of UAVs in civil airspace.

It’s easy to see how this could stifle development. There are some pretty significant technical hurdles around operating unmanned and manned aircraft in civil airspace and the limited opportunities to put the technology through its paces doesn’t make it any easier for engineers to find a solution to these problems.

But it’s equally easy to understand why the public might be alarmed by the prospect of robot aircraft – most of which are designed and equipped for military applications – operating anywhere beyond the most heavily controlled test facility. Indeed, at the time of writing, public concerns over safety and privacy are topping the list of concerns on our current poll on the topic.

It’s not quite a Catch-22, but it’s close, and a reminder that the aerospace industry faces an uphill struggle in its efforts to grow the UAV business. 

Clearly it’s a topic for much debate, and therefore next month we’ll be chairing a special roundtable event in which we’ll ask a panel of some of the UK’s leading UAV experts how industry is working to address the technical, procedural and regulatory challenges of  flying UAVs in civil airspace. The discussion, which will be covered here in detail, promises to provide a fascinating perspective on how the UK aerospace industry intends to grow a sector in which it could secure a leading edge. As always, we’re keen to reflect the views and opinion of Engineer readers so If there’s anything you’d like us to put to our expert panel then please do drop us a line.