UAVs to carry passengers within two decades

Unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) could become common within five years, with unmanned passenger flights possible within 20

Unmanned air vehicles – or UAVs – could become commonplace within five years – with passenger flights estimated within 20 years.

Dave Vos CEO of Athena Technologies, which makes control systems for UAVs and other applications, said at the Farnborough Air Show this week: “Anything you can think of that a manned aircraft does today, a UAV is going to do.”

He argued that the company’s latest navigation and control systems were becoming sufficiently advanced to make UAVs safe for use in the same air space as commercial aircraft in around five years.

The company’s products are already in service in most of the major US UAV programs, including the Darpa Morphing UAV that can completely change its shape as it flies. It is scheduled to take to air “early next summer”, said Vos.

He admitted that UAVs have a reputation for poor reliability but pointed out: “The US Shadow has flown more than 100,000 hours in Iraq.”

He sees UAVs communicating with air traffic controller by voice and said that because of the limited vocabulary set required, such communications were “95 to 99% successful.”

For the other 1-5%, he said that when a message is not understood “ATC says ‘correction’ and you try again, then if that fails, you go to ground control”.

Tom Shelley

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