The debate regarding the development and use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and the necessity of pilots and manned aircrafts in aviation have gained momentum in recent times. Stakeholders in the aviation industry are interested in determining which between the two sides of the debate to support and advocate. The use of UAVs has for a long time been associated with military operations. However, the perception has changed, and UAVs are now used by civilians for activities such as monitoring wildlife, surveying, assessing real estates, research, and in commercial agriculture. As will be discussed in this essay, UAVs have some advantages over the manned systems and should, therefore, be developed.
UAVs can and are used by civilians for beneficial purposes. In the recent past, UAVs were used by humanitarians in Haiti after the country experienced an earthquake and Hurricane Sandy, which also led to the breakout of cholera. The disasters caused a lot of casualties and destroyed the landscape of the country such that buildings, houses, and other infrastructure such as roads were destroyed (OCHA, 2014, p. 7). The destruction forced may people to seek refuge in camps and to rely on humanitarian aid. For humanitarians to provide the so much needed assistance, they required an up-to-date imagery to help in the distribution of the aid, to determine the reconstruction needs and the disaster mitigation techniques to employ. They used several types of UAVs to provide a quick and detailed idea about the real situation of the country (OCHA, 2014, p. 7). For example, the UAVs enabled them to register lands, to take census and assess destroyed houses, buildings, hospitals, and schools, and to monitor the situation of the internally displaced persons and their refugee camps.
The main advantage of the UAVs over the manned systems is their use of the dull, the dirty, and the dangerous roles, both by the military and by civilians. The dull roles refer to applications like extended surveillance (Austin, 2014, p. 6). Such applications can be dull and boring for aircrew under the manned aircraft system. It could result in loss of concentration and, therefore, loss of the effectiveness of the surveillance. UAVs provide a cheaper and more efficient alternative in such cases. Unmanned vehicles with features such as high-resolution colour video and radar scanners can be used for such missions.
The dirty roles refer to applications that would put the operators of manned systems in unnecessary risks. For example, in commercial agriculture, the spraying of crops with toxic chemicals would unnecessarily expose the crew to the chemicals (Austin, 2014, p. 6). In military use, the monitoring of the environment for nuclear weapons would expose the crew to risks. UAVs provide a safer alternative that allow the performance of such functions without exposing people to the risks involved.
The dangerous roles refer to applications that would expose the operators of manned systems to danger. For example, in military use, the surveillance of war zones exposes the crew to the danger of enemy attacks and the possibility of reduced concentration because of the threat of attacks. Opponents find it harder to detect and take defensive actions against UAVs because of their small sizes and greater stealth, thereby ensuring the surveillance of war zones (Austin, 2014, p. 6). In civilian use, the inspection of power lines and the control of forest fires are examples of applications for which UAVs can be used. Such applications would expose the crew of manned systems to danger. The risk to personnel is eliminated with the use of UAVs.
Some policing activities, both civilian and military, require secrecy, in particular against the enemies being policed. The police need to keep secret the fact that they have detected the enemies (Austin, 2014, p. 6). Such operations are referred to as covert operations and are best performed with the use of UAVs. UAVs are small and not readily detectable by enemies. They can even be used for secret missions over the air spaces of other countries.
Researchers in the aeronautical field have embraced the use of UAVs. They use them for airborne testing of the projections of civil and military designs of manned aircrafts. The main advantage is that UAVs enable such tests to be conducted cheaply under realistic conditions (Austin, 2014, p. 6). They also allow for cheaper and quicker testing of subsequent modifications of the projections.
The use of UAVs has some economic benefits over manned systems (Austin, 2014, p. 7). They are smaller than the manned aircraft and are, therefore, cheaper to acquire. Consequently, they consume less fuel and power than the manned systems and require less maintenance. UAVs do not require as much human labour to operate as the manned systems do and, therefore, incur less labour cost. As such, their operating costs are considerably lower than those of manned aircrafts.
The use of UAVs also gives rise to some positive environmental outcomes (Austin, 2014, p. 7). Most UAVs are smaller and of lower mass and, therefore, consume less power than the manned aircraft. Consequently, they produce fewer emissions and noise pollution (Austin, 2014, p. 7). Such advantages over the manned systems make them easily used for civilian operations such as the inspection of power lines, especially in inhabited areas where little or no pollution is desirable.
Despite having the above advantages over manned aircrafts, the number of reported UAV accidents has risen as UAV use increases (Hing & Oh, 2008). Human errors and equipment failure have been found out to be the primary causes of the accidents. Engineers are yet to develop UAVs with the capacity to eliminate the need for human piloting, and this fact leaves the operation of UAVs heavily reliant on people (Hing & Oh, 2008). Additionally, a novel method of UAV training, piloting, and accident evaluation is yet to be developed and at times, this lead UAV pilots to making high-risk maneuvers that increase the possibility of equipment failure. There is, therefore, the need to establish fully automated systems or to develop more efficient training methods for UAV pilots to avoid the high number of accidents.
UAVs have many uses and advantages over manned aircrafts. They can be used for military and civilian dull operations such as extended surveillance. They can also be used for dirty roles such as spraying crops in commercial agriculture and in monitoring the environment for nuclear weapons. UAVs can also be employed in the performance of dangerous operations such as monitoring war zones by the military and in the control of forest fires by civilians. In aeronautical research, they are used cheaply and quickly test the projections of manned military aircrafts and their subsequent modifications. UAVs have economic benefits such as lower operational costs over manned planes. They consume less fuel, require less manpower, and need less maintenance. Besides, they emit less waste and noise and are, therefore, more environmental friendlier than the manned systems. However, a higher number of accidents are associated with the use of UAVs primarily because of human errors. There is the need to develop fully automated UAVs and more efficient training methods for UAV pilots to reduce the number of UAV accidents.
- Austin, R. (2014). Unmanned Aircraft Systems UAVS Design, Development And Deployment (1st ed.). West Sussex:UK: John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.
- Hing, J., & Oh, P. (2008). Development of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Piloting System with Integrated Motion Cueing for Training and Pilot Evaluation. J Intell Robot Syst, 54(1-3), 3-19. doi:10.1007/s10846-008-9252-3
- OCHA,. (2014). Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in Humanitarian Response (1st ed.). OCHA, PDSB.