Pilotless civilian aircraft could start to become a common sight in British skies within the next ten years, it was claimed yesterday.
Scientists say aviation is at a “crossroads” with the development of civilian drones that can safely fly themselves.
Civilian unmanned aircraft (CUAs) would first be introduced to carry out jobs such as search and rescue in hazardous conditions, monitoring the weather and environment, checking roads, railways and power lines, and for forestry and policing.
Robot passenger planes are still a long way off, but other types of civilian drone could be taking to the air in the next decade, according to Lambert Dopping-Hepenstal, director of a £67 million CUA research project.
Speaking in London, where a conference on CUAs takes place next week, Mr Dopping-Hepenstal said: “Pandora’s box is open. These things are going to fly. This is a revolution in aerospace. You could argue that it’s the next step beyond the jet engine.”
Military drones are already widely employed in conflict zones such as Afghanistan, where their use has been controversial, but their civilian counterparts will have to be even more technologically advanced to satisfy regulators.