GAO’s report on FAA drone integration strategy: You can do better

GAO FAA drone integration

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has delivered its report on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) efforts to integrate drones into the national airspace and its methods of processing requests for operations not covered by Part 107 rules. The main conclusions of the audit are the regulator needs to do better in both establishing and communicating a comprehensive strategy for broader UAV use, and in defining a uniform procedure for issuing waivers.

In preparing its study, the GAO consulted FAA planning documents and internal reports on drone integration, and interviewed agency officials and participants in the regulator’s pilot programs. It also consulted 15 industry groups representing manufacturers, operators, and other stakeholders who’d partaken in FAA rule-making advisory committees. 

The main message the GAO came away with is the drone integration strategy the FAA presented as comprehensive remains incomplete, and that methods for considering waiver requests vary considerably around the nation.

The GAO said FAA planning documents “partially include four of the seven elements of a comprehensive strategy but do not include the remaining three elements.” It also stated existing content does not sufficiently map out goals, objectives, milestones, or evaluation of drone integration progress. 

Though FAA officials stated the agency is still working on a complete policy, the audit said it remains unclear when the repeatedly delayed strategy will be delivered, nor whether it will fill in all existing gaps.

ReadBill calls for specialized advanced aviation office within the FAA 

The GAO also faulted the FAA’s manner of considering waiver requests for advanced drone operations not authorized under Part 107. The audit said more than half of the sector stakeholders consulted reported they’d received no clear guidance on criteria used in granting such authorization, which complicated their efforts working with multiple FAA offices that seemed to be working from differing considerations. 

As a result, the GAO report made four recommendations to the FAA on how to improve its drone integration work:

The Administrator of FAA should develop a drone integration strategy that includes all seven elements of a comprehensive strategy… more clearly communicate how applicants can satisfy drone operational request requirements, and communicate FAA’s internal process for reviewing and approving operational requests… develop and document a formal lessons-learned process for its drone integration activities…  and implement the formal lessons-learned process it develops for its ongoing drone integration activities, including Part 107 waiver reviews and the BEYOND program.

The GAO noted the FAA agreed with the thrust of the audit’s suggestions.

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