There is a huge potential market for civilian and commercial uses of unmanned aircraft systems

But Commercial pilots have raised safety concerns.

According to Ben Gielow, general counsel for the industry group Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, there is a huge potential market for civilian and commercial uses of unmanned aircraft systems

The market will almost double over the next decade to $11.3 billion, according to a March estimate by the Teal Group in Fairfax, Va., which analyzes the aerospace and defense industries.

Commercial pilots have raised safety concerns. Although pilots are required to spend time flying planes and are tested on their abilities to hold licenses, no similar rules exist for the controllers of remote aircraft. Likewise, the FAA doesn’t certify drones like passenger planes against engine failure or wings falling off.

Capt. Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, says the people who remotely control aircraft should meet the same training and qualifications as regular pilots. His group is also concerned about controllers losing contact with drones. “We have a long way to go,” Moak says of having drones fly safely with passenger jets.

Smaller UAV’s need rules

The legislation calls for the FAA to set up six experimental locations where drones can fly. Competition for them and the high-paying jobs among researchers and manufacturers they’re expected to attract has already begun.

“Members are already jockeying for their particular area,” says Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, co-chairman of a House caucus of 49 members who advocate using drones.

The legislation also calls on the FAA to establish rules for smaller drones weighing up to 55 pounds within 27 months. The schedule for all drones is Sept. 30, 2015.

A key unresolved question is how to avoid collisions. The philosophy since the Wright brothers has been for pilots to “see and avoid” other aircraft. Without a pilot on board, the strategy for drones is “sense and avoid,” perhaps giving off a signal that other planes receive.

“You’ve got to find a way to apply today’s technology to regulations that were written many years ago,” says Bobby Sturgell, a former FAA head and now a senior vice president for Rockwell Collins, which makes navigational and other equipment for drones. “The message behind the legislation is, ‘Let’s make this happen.’

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