Altair/Predator B (courtesy of NASA)
Government and private industry want to expand the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in domestic airspace. And although the FAA has been considering the issue for more than 15 years, the agency has yet to find a way to protect civilian aircraft from UAV midairs except to restrict airspace or require manned chase planes.
That's an unacceptable situation, AOPA said Wednesday before the House aviation subcommittee of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
"We request the subcommittee to press the FAA for expeditious action on UAV regulations," AOPA Executive Vice President of Government Affairs Andy Cebula told the committee. "Neither accidents between UAVs and manned aircraft, nor the implementation of flight restrictions, are acceptable."
Cebula told the members of Congress that AOPA members overwhelming favored certifying UAVs to the same safety requirements - including the ability to safely detect and avoid other aircraft - as manned aircraft.
"Pilots do not support airspace restrictions such as TFRs to allow UAVs to operate, according to our survey," Cebula said. "It's shared, public airspace, and everything flying in it should be able to do so without threatening the safety of general aviation pilots."
Pilots told AOPA that they are concerned about UAVs' inability to detect and avoid other aircraft, and their inability to respond immediately to air traffic control instructions.
They were also worried that UAVs have yet to be tested to the same standards as manned aircraft, and that they have yet to demonstrate that they can operate safely in shared airspace.
Cebula also told Congress about problems pilots are experiencing with the TFR protecting Customs and Border Patrol UAV operations along the border with Mexico.
"Members tell us there are problems maintaining radio contact with the FAA in areas of high terrain, yet avoid the TFR," Cebula said. "It has added to the numerous restricted airspace areas in the Southwest, and it presses pilots to fly under the ceiling created by the TFR."
And as if to add insult to injury, a Customs and Border Patrol representative also testifying at the hearing casually said the agency wanted to extend that TFR from Arizona across New Mexico and Texas.
"The pressure for expanded use of UAVs will continue," Cebula said. "The time for the FAA to act is now."
March 29, 2006