FAA faces continuing challenges integrating UAS into national airspace, says GAO

The Federal Aviation Administration faces continuing challenges as it seeks to develop strategies for integrating unmanned aircraft systems into the nation's airspace and has missed a number of key deadlines that the agency set for itself on the program, according to the General Accountability Office.

The GAO's findings are set forth in the report, "Unmanned Aircraft Systems: Continued Coordination, Operational Data, and Performance Standards Needed to Guide Research and Development," released Feb. 15. The report was provided to the House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Oversight, Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

Congress tasked the FAA through the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 to serve as the lead agency responsible for establishing a program to integrate UAS into the national airspace system at six test ranges, noted GAO. The key requirement for the establishment of the six test ranges has been delayed due to privacy concerns, GAO said.

The GAO advised FAA in September 2012 that the administration should incorporate mechanisms in its planning that allow for regular monitoring to assess its progress. Putting such mechanisms in place would help FAA identify what has been achieved and what remains to be done, GAO said.

As part of the UAS integration effort, the FAA has established formal agreements with the Defense Department and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to obtain the appropriate safety data and coordinate research and development, respectively, GAO noted. In addition, the FAA created the UAS Integration Office, within the administration, to coordinate all intra-agency UAS efforts and furnish organizational leadership, GAO notes. 

Research and development efforts are under way to mitigate obstacles to safe and routine integration of UAS into the national airspace, GAO noted. However, these research and development efforts cannot be completed and validated without safety, reliability, and performance standards, which have not yet been developed because of data limitations, GAO said. GAO previously reported that FAA has not used the operational data it already possesses, such as data provided by the DOD.

Meeting the 2012 Act's requirements moving forward will require continued collaboration and significant work for FAA, GAO said.


About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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