“When Drones Fall from the Sky” Story Falls Short

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Statement by AIA President and CEO Marion C. Blakey on Washington Post article on unmanned aircraft systems’ safety record

Arlington, Va. — Today’s Washington Post story, “When Drones Fall from the Sky” ignores critical factors regarding safety of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in a misguided article that could frighten readers about the impending integration of UAS into the national airspace system.  From the opening sentence, the author refers to “a record of calamity that exposes the potential dangers of throwing open American skies to drone traffic,” when in fact, the safety records of military aircraft – which the author admits are improving and haven’t cost a single life – have little to do with future safe commercial operations of unmanned systems in domestic airspace on which the FAA is working diligently.

The FAA UAS integration roadmap and launch of the six designated UAS test sites highlight a systematic approach to safely integrate UAS.  We cannot overstate the importance that FAA places on safety, its primary mission.  Later this year FAA will issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on small UAS, beginning the process for seeking public comment and ultimately issuing regulations governing the use of UAS under 55 pounds.  Those systems – which are the first FAA plans to certify for domestic use – will operate within strict guidelines and only when they meet the new standards.

It’s wrong to conflate the performance of far heavier systems, largely operated in combat zones and in more extreme weather and terrain conditions, with the kinds of limited operations FAA currently is contemplating in the United States.  Military aircraft loss rates are higher when in the development and test phase; as they mature and enter full production and normal operations, loss rates decline.  Moreover, the loss rates that major military UAS systems are experiencing compare very favorably to the loss rates of manned systems at the same point in their development cycle.  Nothing leads us to believe unmanned aircraft will not be as safe or safer than manned aircraft over the long term.

Unmanned systems are an important new technology, and can perform vital safety operations as well as opening new markets for commercial enterprises.  From precision agriculture and advanced tornado research to shooting movies and photojournalism, UAS have a wide variety of future applications.  Scaring the public with unfounded comparisons will not contribute usefully to progress on integrating UAS safely into the national airspace system.

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