Paul Marks in New Scientist:
The promise is fantastic: new generations of remote-controlled aircraft could soon be flying in civilian airspace, performing all sorts of useful tasks. They could monitor flood defences, keep criminal suspects under surveillance, give firefighters a bird’s-eye view of blazes, search for people lost at sea, or provide wireless networks from on high.
The reality is that a lack of radio frequencies to control the planes and serious concerns over their safety are going to keep them grounded for years to come.
Surprisingly, given the commercial hopes it has for civil unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), the aviation industry has failed to obtain the radio frequencies it needs to control them – and it will be 2011 before it can even begin to lobby for space on the radio spectrum. What’s more, none of the world’s aviation authorities will allow civil UAVs to fly in their airspace without a reliable system for avoiding other aircraft – and the industry has not yet even begun developing such a system. Experts say this could take up to seven years.