Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 25, 2014

2014 Hot Aviation Careers

A new era of aerospace is fueling aviation career opportunities


The proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) got another boost in December 2013, when the FAA announced the six states that are officially designated as test sites for UAV development. This is a key step in the expansion of commercial use of UAVs (sometimes called "drones") in the skies above America.

Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia were selected to host the research sites for UAV technology. Because the FAA is looking to introduce commercial drones into U.S. airspace in the safest way possible, these states were chosen for their climate, air traffic volume and geography.

To date, UAVs have been used mainly by the military, but private industry is chomping at the bit to get into a business area that promises huge economic windfalls for early adopters. Everyone from law enforcement to farmers is looking to use drones for commercial purposes. The University of North Dakota was the first to offer a UAV program, and many more universities have launched similar programs. Though the FAA doesn't currently allow the use of commercial drones, plans are in place to open up the national airspace system (NAS) to them by late 2015.

Once the genie is let out of the bottle, the FAA projects that some 7,500 commercial drones could be operating in our skies within five years of getting access to the NAS. Conservatives and liberals alike have expressed deep concerns that commercial drones will transform our country into a "spy state" that snoops in on the privacy of its citizens and watches our every move. In reaction, legislators are busily creating bills that will limit the autonomy of commercial UAVs and protect the citizenry from unauthorized privacy violations, but criticism is building. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is watching the development of UAVs closely.

On the career front, the UAV explosion promises hundreds of thousands of jobs, and the FAA's test site announcement has those six states overjoyed at the prospect of injecting their economies with badly needed dollars from UAV operations. In addition to UAV pilots, there will be a myriad of support roles and facilities, all of which could mean 70,000 new jobs, according to one industry report.

Though most UAVs are used for military purposes today, the future could put commercial drones in industries that range from fighting forest fires, scanning crops and scientific measurement. Drones can be anything from a one-foot-long helicopter to an aircraft the size of a Cessna 172, with everything in between. UAV pilots can easily earn $120,000 per year and up, with many working for private contractors today. As the industry expands in the coming years, projections indicate that UAV pilots will be in high demand. Outside of passenger transportation, the next 15 years will be the era where UAVs become commonplace in our skies. Like them or not, they're here to stay.


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