The U.S. FAA is moving forward with a regulatory framework for domestic use of unmanned aircraft, but it will likely be years before pilotless planes are in widespread commercial use, say two top executives at UAV manufacturer General Atomics.
It will probably take another 15 years before shipping companies such as FedEx or UPS employ unmanned aircraft in their regular operations, says Frank Pace, president of the General Atomics Aeronautical Aircraft Systems. “You could do it right away technology-wise,” he said in an interview. “But I just don’t think people are going to want these airplanes flying around the U.S. without pilots.”
Pace’s boss, General Atomics Chairman and CEO Neal Blue, says that even a 15-year estimate is too speculative for him. “The trend line is there,” says Blue. “The question is how long it takes.”