NAPLES, Fla. - Within the next decade unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAV's, are expected to bring in $89 billion worldwide and the U.S. is expected to dominate an estimated 62 percent of that market. That is if the Federal Aviation Administration meets congressional guidelines and deadlines for UAV use in the national airspace.
A Naples business by the name United Drones is hoping the unmanned vehicle business takes off. They are working on a number of contracts and that means expansion. But once the FAA outlines UAV use in national airspace, they say the sky is the limit when it comes to opportunities.
Gary Brecka, Executive Director of United Drones in Naples makes one thing clear. His business is about creating jobs, not taking them away.
"We hear that all the time, would you be displacing jobs? The answer is no because behind every drone, is a human being," Gary explained. "Drones don't operate entirely autonomously. They have no self-awareness, no artificial intelligence, like you see in the movies; these are drones that are operated by a human being."
United Drones founder and engineer Curt Winter says while they currently only employ ten people, he expects to expand soon.
"Drones are mystical to a lot of people, but I think in the next few years, it will be common place. So everybody will be talking about a drone like they're talking about a computer today," he told WINK.
Curt said to expect his company to hire 15 to 25 skilled tradesmen in the coming weeks and even more in the coming years.
"The employment opportunity here will be in the hundreds. We will be hiring as fast as we can find them, contract permitting. We are in negotiations on several contracts," he said.
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a non-profit group devoted to advancing unmanned systems, says that is not an unrealistic expectation. Ben Gielow, with AUVSI predicts a bright future.
"We see tens of thousands of high-paying jobs coming into this field over the next decade," he said.
However, Ben said the jobs will be plentiful only if the FAA gets rules and regulations in place in time.
"The United States is currently the leader in unmanned systems, but the rest of the world is also developing this technology," said Ben. "...If the U.S. doesn't figure out how to safely integrate these things into the airspace, a lot of manufacturers based in the United States might move to other countries."
But people like Ben Gielow and the owners of United Drones are optimistic about America's future and Southwest Florida's future, in the drone business.
"If I was to predict the future I'd see us in a 700,000, one million square foot manufacturing facility," said Gary Brecka. "...and providing jobs, local jobs, here in the community."
"We plan on staying here. This is my home, this is where my kids go to school," said Curt Winter. "We love Naples. We're not leaving Naples. We do plan on growing our operations."
We also talked to Space Florida the independent special district of the state of Florida, created to help bring and retain aerospace business to the state. Right now they're looking to get Florida designated as one of the six test sites for the FAA when it comes to UAV's.
They also want to make Florida the epicenter of UAV development.