San Diego's drone industry doubles in size | Rise of the Drones |

The size of San Diego County’s unmanned aerial vehicle industry doubled over the past five years and could double again as UAVs are increasingly used for everything from spying on suspected terrorists abroad to monitoring the U.S.-Mexico border, says a National University System report released Wednesday.

The industry, which is centered in North County, generated at least $1.3 billion locally in 2011 and directly and indirectly supported 7,135 jobs. The report says the true impact could be far higher due to classified programs that are not included in public records. (...)

Analysts say the global market for such aircraft could exceed $12 billion by 2019. (...)

“This is a dynamic, growing industry, and San Diego has a big opportunity to take advantage of the expected growth,” said Kelly Cunningham, an economist at National’s Institute for Policy Research and lead author of the report. (...)

Cunningham sees it clearly and notes that San Diego has at least two competitive advantages: An educated workforce and the county’s desirable weather. Local contractors also have long, successful ties to the military, a primary user of drones. (...)

“Our challenge in San Diego is access to FAA-approved airspace for flight testing autonomous UAVs,” said John Kosmatka, an engineering professor at UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering. “This is the advantage that North Dakota, New Mexico, and Oklahoma have over us, where large open spaces and military bases are available.