15/11/2012 05:36 GMT | Updated 15/01/2013 05:12 GMT

Unmanned Civilian Planes To Be In UK Skies 'Within 10 Years'

Non-military aircraft that fly without pilots will be commonplace in the UK's skies within ten years, it has been claimed.

Unmanned civilian planes are a "Pandora's box" which is already open, according to Lambert Dopping-Hepenstal, who is the director of the £67m Astraea research project into the vehicles.

Technologically, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are already proven for some uses - as shown by their increasing use by militaries around the world.

It is also legal to fly a drone in the UK if it weighs less than 20kg, and is not near a congested area. The Civil Aviation Authority has said it will not approve the use of larger drones unless they are sure they can avoid other vehicles.

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Safety tests are ongoing in an attempt to prove they are ready for wider deployment.

But Dopping-Hepenstal told journalists that their rise is inevitable.

"This is a revolution in aerospace. You could argue that it's the next step beyond the jet engine," he told reporters, according to the Independent.

Within 10 years, he claimed, UAVs will fly search and rescue missions, monitor weather and traffic and be used to help policing, emergency response and transportation networks.

Tests will be carried out in November on critical "collision avoidance" systems, the BBC said.

Estimates as to the value of UAVs in the UK vary, but a recent report said the figure could be as high as £260bn.