Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS)

The much-publicized success of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in combat operations has created a large potential market for the use of these aircraft by commercial enterprises. Many are also in use domestically by government agencies (law enforcement, customs, agriculture, etc). As the number of these aircraft increase, and the potential for business use increases, so does pressure to allow their unrestricted operation in the National Airspace System (NAS). However, before UAS can be authorized to occupy the same airspace as airlines, or operate in areas where UAS might inadvertently stray into airspace used by commercial flights, there needs to be in place a standard or combination of standards that will ensure the same high level of safety as is currently present in the NAS.

UAS are aircraft that range in size from as small as a bird, to as large as a Boeing 737. They are flown remotely from an operational centers or control stations that can be located at the launch and recovery site or thousands of miles away. Some are capable of “autonomous operation” meaning they follow pre-programmed instructions without direct operator control. Their pilots/operators are not currently required to be FAA licensed pilots. Most of the current designs were developed for the Department of Defense (DoD) for use in combat areas and so are not necessarily designed, built, maintained or operated in the same manner as other aircraft in the National Airspace System. As a result, today they are typically flown in segregated airspace, i.e. military restricted airspace or equivalent.

The UAS industry is currently focused on the rapidly growing DoD UAS application but is moving toward adapting current UAS to civil use. There is growing pressure by the UAS industry to gain access to the NAS as for commercial applications. In order to guarantee and “equivalent level of safety” for UAS in the NAS, extensive study of all potential hazards and ways to mitigate those hazards must be undertaken. The pressure for rapid integration into the NAS must not result in incomplete safety analyses prior to any authorization to operate.

ALPA believes that in commercial aviation, a well-trained and well-qualified pilot is the most important safety component of the commercial aviation system. The role of the pilot is a major area of concern within the UAS and piloted aircraft communities. These pilots should be trained, qualified, and monitored to the same standards as pilots that operate aircraft from within the aircraft. ALPA will continue to work to protect the safety and integrity of the NAS and ensure the introduction of UAS operations will not compromise the safety of our members, passengers, cargo or the public at large.

ALPA is in full support of the former FAA Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety Mr. Nick Sabatini, when he “that UAS should do no harm,” when referring to their potential integration into the NAS. The standards for design, construction, maintenance and operation of UAS must be developed to the point where they operate with the same high level of safety we all expect of commercial aviation before they are allowed unrestricted access to the NAS.