The UAV (Unmanned Air Vehicle) Show Europe in the French city Bordeaux drew a swathe of heavyweights who said the market would expand further as people realised that drones were a far cheaper surveillance option.
"The drone has opened a new industrial and aeronautical era," said Francois Baffou, director at Bordeaux Technowest, which organised the two-day show that opened on Wednesday.
"The drone will not replace either the helicopter nor the plane but it will be used for missions that cost a lot… like surveillance of railway lines, pipelines, wind turbines or the seas," he said.
"A helicopter costs €1,000 ($1,300) an hour. With a drone one pays 1/12th the cost," he said, adding that the drone needs to be "demystified from
the perception that it is a 'Big Brother' with cameras to survey everything."
The military market for the unmanned crafts is also growing said Jean-Noel Stock, vice-president for UAV surveillance and intelligence systems at Thales.
"For the period from 2005-2015, the military market for drones — dominated by the United States at 50% and Israel at 25% — is estimated at €100 billion," he said.
France's Dassult Aviation said its experimental nEUROn military drone being developed along with Greece, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland at a cost of €406 million, was nearly ready.
"It will fly in a few weeks," said Executive Vice-President Eric Trappier.
Thales has developed a drone named the Watchkeeper, which is being used by the British army for weather, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.