AEA 2014: Drone Support Goes Mainstream

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If industry forecasts about the growth of the unmanned aerial vehicle market are correct, there could be as many as 1.2 million drones buzzing around the national airspace during the next decade and someone will need to maintain them. A new company called Robotic Skies sees a robust market in supporting and servicing UAV systems and it’s putting together a network of existing avionics shops to do just that. Robotic Skies founder Brad Hayden, Aspen Avionics’ former marketing director, is making the rounds at the 57th annual Aircraft Electronics Association convention recruiting shops interested in gaining a toehold in what could be a burgeoning market for UAV sales, support and maintenance.

In this exclusive video coverage from AEA in Nashville, Hayden told AVweb that the domestic UAV market could be as large as $82 billion between 2015 and 2025, according to data from the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. “Even if they’re half right, that’s going to be a lot of airframes flying around in the airspace that are going to require maintenance,” Hayden said. Drones of all sizes will require not just repairs, but support for marketing, insurance and technical advice on integrating into the national airspace system.

Hayden says the manufacturers of small, affordable drones, which are proliferating, aren’t necessarily interested in having them shipped back for service and are looking for field support options. Eventually, larger commercial drones will become part of the general aviation mix, requiring avionics and autopilots every bit as sophisticated as found in the typical GA airplane today. Robotic Skies plans to stitch together a network of shops and manufacturers to provide service as drone systems are integrated into the NAS.

Even though hobbyists are currently flying below the FAA’s literal and regulatory radar, Hayden says the FAA has signaled that these systems will come under some sort of FAA framework, perhaps similar to the oversight used for the light sport aircraft industry. Hayden says Robotic Skies already has nine services centers and it expect to expand aggressively during 2014. For more, check out Robotic Skies' website.