Release #08.021
April 30, 2008

Pilots Send Clear Message at NTSB UAS Safety Forum
Unmanned aircraft not ready to safely operate in national airspace system

WASHINGTON—During their presentations at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Safety Forum, representatives of the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA) made 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.

“We’re here to ensure that the multiple layers of safety that are the bedrock of the U.S. air transportation system—that protect our passengers and our cargo—do not erode with the introduction of UAS into the National Airspace System,” says Capt. Ellis Chernoff, ALPA’s National Airspace System Modernization Committee UAS Project Leader. “We applaud the NTSB for holding this forum to discuss not only the progress on unmanned aircraft technology, but also the safety and regulatory standards that these systems need for unrestricted operation.”

Before the U.S. government allows these aircraft into unrestricted national airspace system, including operating above or below the altitudes usually used by airline operations, federal authorities must take the appropriate steps and perform detailed risk analyses. 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 guaranteed.

“Current UAS operations, like all aviation operations, have inherent risks that must be managed,” continues Chernoff. “Thus far, the UAS accident record and datalink dependability do not support the claim that they operate just like any other airplane, but without a pilot on board.”

ALPA’s concerns include the aircraft’s capability to maintain continuous contact with the operator, detect weather, avoid collisions with other aircraft, 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.

ALPA maintains that a well-trained and highly qualified flight crew remains the most important safety component of the air transportation system. “Training qualified pilots for UAS operations is an essential thread in the robust safety net needed to protect the public, both in the air and on the ground,” concludes Chernoff. “The bottom line is that your last line of defense in preventing an aircraft accident, or reducing its toll, is your professional pilot. That pilot comes with years of training and hands-on experience, and that will be hard to hardwire into operational procedures for UAS.”

Founded in 1931, ALPA is the world’s largest pilot union, representing more than 56,000 pilots at 41 airlines in the U.S. and Canada.

# # #

Contacts: Pete Janhunen, Linda Shotwell, Molly Martin, 703/481-4440 or