Management consultancy predicts expansion in coastguard and maritime applications

The worldwide civil and commercial UAV market could be worth $2 billion between this year and 2014, according to interim results of a study by Frost & Sullivan.

The management consultancy expects coastguard and maritime applications to form the largest share of the market, particularly for medium altitude-long endurance (MALE) UAVs, followed by border security, forest fire management, and pipeline surveillance applications.

The study also forecasts some demand from other applications, including critical infrastructure protection, general security missions, police aviation, highway and traffic management, powerline surveys and telecoms. The USA and Europe are expected to account for the largest shares of the market.

Shai Shammai, UAV Systems team leader at the consultancy, says the market value forecast could change by the time the study is completed in the last quarter of 2005 because, for example, the need for critical infrastructure protection in Africa and for maritime patrols in Asia, both regions that have not yet been fully examined, could prove important markets.

However, uncertainty over the cost savings available, and navigational constraints as well as "fear of unproven technology" may all put off potential users, the study warns. But further trials and demonstrations should rectify this, says Daniel Cohen, who is working on the study. "Once the benefits are proven, fears will subside."

The main challenge for European authorities will be setting certification standards and airspace legislation for civil UAVs, says Cohen. He hopes Europe will have certification standards in place by "mid-2010 to early 2011". Shammai points to a gap in activities and capabilities between the USA and Europe: "Europe must start to do something about it if it wants a fair share of the market."

He adds: "The shift to commercial and civil applications for UAVs is not necessarily an evolutionary phase that must happen – it depends on how much stakeholders and manufacturers invest to make it happen. If they proactively engage with projects, then the market will grow. Manufacturers must put their money where their mouth is."

Other key challenges for the sector will be seamless integration into commercial airspace, assessing cost-effectiveness, including whether operators should buy or lease UAVs, simple methods for processing images and distributing them for surveillance, and developing dedicated sensor technologies for specific applications.

The report stresses the importance of authorities supporting trials. Cohen praises the Welsh Parc Aberporth UAV centre, adding that although the centre will probably allow for enough R&D and testing of UAVs in the short term, more UK centres may be required once UAVs take hold and are used in more applications.

"Only proof of success will breed more investment," he says. "Military applications have already seen success, so there is no reason why civil won't too."


Source: Flight International