Unmanned, remote-controlled aircraft, popularly known as "drones," have proved a success in some battlefield operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Soon they'll be flying through U.S. skies, too, mostly for law enforcement and disaster-relief missions. According to a Jan. 14, 2011, article in USA Today, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)is expected to propose regulations for operating the small aircraft for those purposes later this year in response to requests from local governments. But they might also be suitable for carrying cargo, says one expert in military logistics and supply chain management.
The article quotes Wesley Randall, assistant professor of supply chain management at Auburn University and a 2010 DC VELOCITY Rainmaker, as predicting that police departments will use the unmanned aircraft in five to 10 years. That's not surprising, given the drones' military heritage. But the "birds" could also serve a business purpose. Randall, who spent 20 years as a logistician in the Air Force, goes on to forecast that large, unmanned aircraft will be used to transport cargo within 15 or 20 years.
The potential benefits of unmanned cargo flights in high-risk areas are obvious, and military and defense contractors have been testing various aircraft since 2007. (For more on the military's use of the aircraft for delivering cargo, see "Military tests unmanned helicopters to reduce supply risks" at www.dcvelocity.com.) But what about commercial applications? Some possible uses include deliveries to work sites in remote areas, carrying supplies to regions that have been hit by natural disasters, and carrying hazardous or volatile products.