UAS: OIG to FAA “This Train is NOT Running on Time”

The FAA assures us that the UAS regulatory process is well underway, and that they are still on track to release the long awaited small UAS rules by November.  Congress, however, has been increasingly skeptical of the FAA’s ability to manage UAS integration into the national airspace.  As a result, they asked the Office of the Inspector General to take a look at the situation and give their unbiased appraisal.  The report  is now in, and the results are not encouraging.

The Inspector General sees a number of warning signs that UAS integration is behind schedule and likely to stay that way, including the FAA’s:

  1. Failure to develop a consensus of what is needed for detect and avoid technology and secure data links
  2. Failure to establish a framework for aircraft certification and air traffic procedures
  3. Failure to collect data and track UAS accidents and incidents
  4. Failure to analyze UAS operational data to identify risks
  5. Failure to share UAS safety data with the Department of Defense
  6. Failure to establish guidance for UAS regional inspectors on how to authorize and oversee UAS operations

The Report also notes that the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 sets out 17 tasks the FAA is to perform by September 2015.  Only nine of the 17 have been completed, and the report notes that most of those missed their statutory milestones.  Of the remaining eight, the Inspector General believes all are currently behind schedule.  The Inspector General concludes that until these areas are adequately addressed, the FAA’s UAS integration efforts will continue to be slow, and there will continue to be unidentified and troubling safety risks.

The last part of the report is a response by the FAA to the issues raised by the Inspector General.  The FAA defends itself by noting it has made progress since 2012, and that it will issue the small UAS rule this year.  With regard to the September 2015 goal set by Congress, the FAA’s position is that it is only required to have “safe integration” of UAS by that date, not “full integration.”  As a result, the FAA believes its “incremental approach” is fully in keeping with Congressional intent.  The FAA concludes by concurring with the Inspector General’s recommendations, and pledging to take corrective action.

Overall, the Inspector General’s Report does not really have anything truly new in it.  It basically confirms that UAS integration is behind schedule and is likely to remain behind schedule.  The main benefit of the Report is the addition of an empirical analysis to the anecdotal evidence that we see in the news every week.  The FAA is saying all the right things in response, we will have to wait until this fall to see if that will translate into solid progress on UAS integration.

(Originally posted July 2, 2014)

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