Initially developed for military purposes, today Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) are actively penetrating the commercial aviation industry. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), in five years’ time there will be approx. 7500 small UAVs operating in non-military areas alone. A drastic increase in UAVs usage in commercial aviation raises the issues of their proper continuing maintenance and training of specialized technical specialists.
The experts from a U.S.-based research company Teal Group estimate that during the period from 2013 to 2023 over $89 billion will be spent on the UAV industry worldwide. While the military air force operates various types and sizes of Unmanned Aerial Systems, in civil aviation the fastest growing segment is related to small UAVs – up to 50 kg machines capable of conducting 3-5 kilometre-long flights lasting for several hours.
‘UAVs represent a classical case when military projects are being successfully transferred to the civil area. The commercial UAV industry has been rapidly developing during the last 5-10 years. With the prices starting as low several thousand Euros, today both businesses and individuals have the opportunity to acquire their own UAV. As a result of increasing popularity of such machines, at the moment commercial UAVs are already operated in various segments, including rescue missions, fire fighting control, agriculture, media, geographical and geological surveillance, etc. However, the absence of unified standards and regulations in the area of UAVs certification and exploitation is raising the issue of by who and how should UAVs be maintained and repaired,’ comments Kestutis Volungevicius, the Head of FL Technics Training.
With no human pilots UAVs operate either automatically via internal computer systems or are remotely handled by a pilot on the ground. In any case, UAVs represent a sophisticated set of electronics, computer systems, radio transmitters and other advanced technologies which practically leave no place for human factor. However, in order to maintain UAVs in a proper technical and technological condition, some human interference is still required. With a significant increase in UAV application by non-military organizations over the upcoming 5-10 years, the industry might face the shortage of civil maintenance specialists unprepared.
‘The demand for UAV technical staff would mimic the ongoing trends in the ‘big’ commercial aviation, where the major focus is placed on the specialists of avionics. It is hard to forecast how many UAV technicians will be required in the upcoming years as the industry is still forming and there is no clear understanding of how it will look like by the end of this decade. Regardless of whether UAV operators will outsource maintenance works or prefer to keep in-house specialists, we should definitely see a sharp spike in demand. For these reasons, we believe that it is high time for the aviation industry to develop universal principles and standards in the UAV area which would become a firm basis for future training programs,’ commented K. Volungevicius.