Keeping a Close Eye on Drone Discussions in D.C.

As lawmakers and regulators are examining the safe expansion and integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the national airspace, ALPA reminded the United States Senate that ensuring the safety of airline passengers and crews remains the highest priority.  

On May 8, the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security heard from Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and industry stakeholders on the benefits of drone operations to a variety of industries and the value of expanding those operations. From safety inspections of large infrastructure projects, to agricultural inspections, to filming motion pictures, the potential economic and societal benefits are significant.

ALPA has long supported the robust development of UAS technology with one single overriding condition: integration of UAS into the national airspace must be done safely, deliberately, thoughtfully, and with full understanding and proper mitigation of the possible risks.

Also this week, the Department of Transportation (DOT) is set to announce the projects selected for the UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP). Launched in 2017, this program will examine models for the introduction of UAS into our nation’s skies to identify new risks to safety and develop adequate mitigations for those risks. Like many in the industry, ALPA will be watching when the DOT and the FAA announce the names and locations of the IPP activities on May 9.

While the safe commercial use of small UAS is beneficial, it is possibly the recreational users of these devices that cause the biggest concern for aviation safety. Small drones are difficult for pilots and air traffic controllers to see, and they do not currently have technologies to avoid a collision with an airliner.  If small UAS are required to be equipped with anti-collision technology, flight crews would likely be aware of a drone’s proximate location soon enough to take evasive action to extinguish the threat.

Unfortunately, Congress has limited the FAA’s ability to fully regulate recreational drone use, and the safety of the national airspace is at risk. While this current restriction is troubling, if Congress repealed Section 336 of Public Law 112-195, the FAA would once and for all have the ability to fully regulate model and hobby UAS operations.

The likelihood that a drone will collide with an airliner is increasing. Providing the FAA with the full authority to regulate all UAS operations, is a necessary step to protect the safety of passenger and cargo flights.

Categories: Advocacy