October 16, 2007
Pilots Endorse NTSB Stance on
Drones not ready to safely operate in national airspace
WASHINGTON, DC—Today’s National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendations on unmanned aerial systems (UAS) make it clear that significant design and operational safety improvements must be made before UAS can safely share airspace with airliners carrying passengers, cargo, and crews or fly above populated areas. The recommendations were issued as part of the NTSB Sunshine Meeting on the April 2006 Predator B crash near Nogales, Ariz.
“This first-of-its-kind NTSB investigation shows that these unmanned vehicles and ground support equipment simply aren’t designed or built to the same high standard as airliners and that they don’t have the same operational capabilities that ensure safety,” says Capt. Brian Townsend, chairman of ALPA’s National Airspace System Modernization Committee. “We are extremely encouraged by the NTSB’s discussion of the progress that is essential before unmanned aircraft can truly be ready for unrestricted operation.”
“This crash shows what can happen when the multiple layers of safety that are the bedrock of the U.S. air transportation system are missing. A robust design, a well-trained operator, thorough corporate oversight, and scrutiny by the regulator are all essential elements of a safe aviation system,” continues Townsend. “The NTSB investigation pointed out that current UAS operations can have flaws in each of these areas – flaws that must all be corrected before UAS can be allowed unrestricted access to the nation’s airspace.”
ALPA has long advocated that UAS should be allowed access to the national airspace only if the same level of safety currently in place for other NAS users is ensured. Outstanding concerns for ALPA include the aircraft’s capability to maintain continuous contact with the operator, detect weather, avoid collisions with airliners, and operate in congested air traffic areas. The FAA is working with ALPA and other aviation industry groups to develop rules and standards for UAS operations. The NTSB call for a forum to discuss UAS-related issues is a promising step forward.
ALPA believes, and the NTSB underscored today, that a well-trained and highly qualified flight crew remains the most important safety component of our air transportation system. “Preventing an accident or reducing its toll depends on years of training, an ability to quickly evaluate options, and the pilots’ response to hands-on control pressures,” concludes Townsend. “The safety net must be made more robust to protect the public, both in the air and on the ground. Training qualified pilots for UAS operations is an essential thread in that safety net.”
Founded in 1931, ALPA represents 60,000 pilots at 41 airlines in Canada and the U.S. For more information, visit the ALPA website at http://www.alpa.org.
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ALPA CONTACTS: Pete Janhunen, Linda Shotwell, Molly Martin, 703-481-4440