WASHINGTON, April 21 (Reuters) - U.S. companies including insurers and aerospace manufacturers urged federal aviation regulators on Tuesday to speed up the use of drones in disaster response and relief operations in the United States.
A report sponsored by the groups and released by the consulting firm 32 Advisors advocates drone use for purposes ranging from response planning and damage assessment to supply delivery and Wi-Fi and cellular phone relay services.
But the 52-page document warned that current regulatory hurdles pose delays and called on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to establish a special emergency approval process that would quickly allow unmanned aircraft to fly over populated areas during declared emergencies.
FAA officials had no immediate comment.
Released just days before the April 24 deadline for public comment on newly proposed FAA drone regulations, the report's sponsors include companies that are involved in drone technology or hope to use the devices to cope with hurricanes, earthquakes, wild fires and other disasters.
The sponsors include Boeing Co, Lockheed Martin Corp , United Parcel Service Inc, International Business Machines Corp, Willis Group Holdings Ltd and Zurich North America.
The use of drones for civil and commercial operations is officially banned in the United States, unless the operation wins FAA approval under a process that many have found to be frustratingly slow. The proposed rules that would lift the ban are not expected to be finalized until late 2016 or early 2017.
The U.S. aviation regulatory agency has taken steps recently to streamline approvals, but private sector groups continue to press for further changes. (Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Ted Botha)