Commercial pilots group concerned over Amazon drone safety

The Air Line Pilots Association cautions that safety is paramount in commercial drone flight

An organization representing thousands of commercial pilots in the U.S. and Canada says it's concerned about the safety implications of Amazon flying drones at a site near Seattle.

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) says because the test site is close to densely populated areas with large amounts of commercial air traffic, the likelihood of an accident is increased.

Amazon is exploring the use of drones for package delivery and has asked the Federal Aviation Administration for permission to test them near its headquarters in Washington state. The company said it might be forced to take drone research and development overseas if the FAA doesn't grant its application.

The ALPA comment came in a letter sent to the FAA on Monday that demanded Amazon provide specific details of every planned drone operation and the efforts it is taking to minimize the risk of an accident, if the flights are to go ahead.

"If the FAA were to grant this exemption for a private test site facility, the FAA's oversight task is increased," it said.

Drones currently fall within a grey area of U.S. law. The FAA has claimed regulatory control over them and given private pilots and hobbyists many of the same freedoms they enjoy with model aircraft while prohibiting businesses from using drones for commercial use.

The first change in that policy recently occurred when the FAA, after lobbying from the Motion Picture Association of America, allowed a handful of movie and TV production companies to use drones in a controlled manner on movie sets for filming purposes.

Companies in the agriculture and energy fields are also asking for permission to fly drones.

Amazon's application to the FAA has so far garnered nine responses from the public, including the ALPA. Several, mainly from groups involved in the unmanned aviation sector, support the proposal, while a couple from private individuals oppose it, one calls for thorough safety measures and another supports it.

The FAA is accepting comments on the proposal until Sept. 4.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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