Will drones be delivering your pizza soon?

For the past few years, unmanned aerial systems (UAS) have been a hot topic. Despite being referred to by many names (e.g., "drones," "unmanned aerial vehicles," "remotely piloted aircraft") they are consistently believed to represent a huge market opportunity and have the potential to revolutionize a wide range of industries.

UAS on the Rise
Evidence of UAS potential can be seen by the rapidly growing number of well-attended UAS conferences and tradeshows. The Federal Aviation Administration's UAS Symposium in March was a prime example. The three-day event gave stakeholders the opportunity to talk face-to-face with a cross-section of government and industry representatives about regulations, research, and other initiatives to integrate UAS into the National Airspace System (NAS). That's the big question right now: how are we going to integrate this anticipated wave of UAS into the airspace?

Challenges Ahead
While UAS are being used for a variety of purposes already, it will be a while before we see swarms of drones delivering pizzas or taxiing people across town to avoid ground traffic. This is because there are still numerous problems that need to be solved for these advanced applications – problems that require the development of standards and regulations, which take significant discussion, debate, and time. Just a few example issues that need to be resolved are:

  • Remote/electronic identification: UAS will need to be able to be identified remotely, much like manned aircraft are today.
  • Radio spectrum utilization: UAS radio communications will need to fit within our already-congested air waves and avoid interfering with manned aviation.
  • Communications reliability and bandwidth: Related to the radio spectrum issue, adequate communications reliability and bandwidth will need to be provided to ensure UAS command and control links are dependable.
  • Balancing risk and regulation: Many types of regulations will need to be established to ensure safety, security, and privacy in the air and on the ground.

The Good News
Fortunately, there is an incredible amount of activity and collaboration taking place to work through these issues. It's exciting to see the mix of participants from the traditional aviation and commercial/consumer technology sectors working together. At this year's World ATM Congress – an annual conference hosted by the Civil Air Navigation Services Organization – UAS were a recurrent theme and topic of discussion. Attendees talked about joint efforts to tackle UAS challenges, which is exactly what's needed to properly manage this growing field of technology.

There is no doubt that progress has been made and that there is a tremendous amount of energy and commitment being applied to integrate UAS. However, difficult challenges still remain and it will be awhile before UAS become a regular sight overhead.

Rob Brown
Head of Portfolio and Strategy
Saab Air Traffic Management

Angeline Schreiber
Business Analyst
Saab Air Traffic Management

This post is part of Saab USA's U.S. Market Insights blog series, where our marketing and business development employees offer their thoughts on the issues affecting their portfolio.