Release #06.067
November 22, 2006

Pilots to FAA: Seize Opportunity to Address UAV Safety Issues
Global Hawk Entered U.S. Commercial Airspace without Adequate Safety Analysis

WASHINGTON, DC – The FAA’s delay in fully evaluating the safety risks that could result from an unmanned aircraft mixing with commercial air traffic before this week’s Global Hawk launch raises many concerns, according to the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA). The U.S. Air Force launched the Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) on Tuesday at Beale Air Force Base in California.

“This operation is being conducted primarily in restricted airspace and above commercial traffic, however, parts of the Global Hawk mission will bring an unmanned aircraft with a wingspan similar to that of a B-737 into the same airspace as passenger and cargo airliners with no special handling by air traffic control,” said Capt. Duane E. Woerth, president of ALPA. “While ALPA recognizes and supports the Department of Defense’s need to use these military aircraft, operations in public airspace demand that we maintain the highest possible level of safety.”

The FAA has publicly stated that operating unmanned aerial systems (UAS), which include the vehicle as well as the pilot, procedures, and equipment that support it, must not create an adverse impact on manned operations in the national airspace.

“Before allowing unmanned vehicles to operate in the same airspace as airliners carrying passengers and cargo, the FAA must conduct a rigorous safety analysis aimed at identifying and mitigating any risk to passengers, crew, and cargo on manned flights,” said Capt. Woerth. “The safety of the flying public and our members must not be affected by the introduction of a new system.”

For the past two years, ALPA has been actively working with government and industry groups to develop standards for operating unmanned aircraft in the national airspace system. ALPA believes that those safety standards must address aircraft design and certification, aircraft equipage, pilot training and qualifications, as well as operational approval requirements.

“ALPA remains ready to continue to work with the FAA and industry to create and put into place appropriate safety standards for unmanned aerial vehicles,” continued Capt. Woerth. “We need to be absolutely certain that these aircraft can be operated with the same high level of safety that exists for all other aircraft in our nation’s airspace today.”

ALPA, founded in 1931, is the world’s largest pilot union, representing 61,000 pilots at 40 airlines in the United States and Canada. Visit the ALPA website at

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ALPA CONTACTS: Linda Shotwell and Jeff Orschel at 703/481-4440, or