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Audit Reports


FAA Faces Significant Barriers To Safely Integrate Unmanned Aircraft Systems Into the National Airspace System

Requested By
Requested by the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Senate Commerce Committee and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and their Aviation Subcommittees
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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) forecasts there will be roughly 7,500 active Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in the United States in 5 years. Concerned with the progress of integrating UAS into the National Airspace System (NAS), Congress established specific UAS provisions and deadlines for FAA in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.

Although FAA is taking steps to advance UAS operations, significant technological barriers remain in achieving safe integration largely because current UAS have a limited ability to detect and avoid other air traffic. In addition, FAA has not established a regulatory framework for UAS integration, such as aircraft certification requirements, standard air traffic procedures, or an adequate controller training program. FAA is also not effectively collecting and analyzing UAS safety data or managing its oversight of UAS operations. Furthermore, the Agency is significantly behind schedule in meeting most of the UAS-related provisions of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, including the August 2014 milestone for issuing a final rule on small UAS operations. These delays are due to unresolved technological, regulatory, and privacy issues and will ultimately prevent the Agency from meeting Congress’s September 2015 deadline for achieving safe UAS integration.

FAA concurred with all 11 of our recommendations to enhance the effectiveness of its efforts to safely integrate UAS into the NAS. Based on FAA’s response, we are requesting additional information or revised responses for five recommendations.


Closed on
No. 1 to FAA
Publish a report annually detailing ongoing research activities and progress FAA and other entities are making in their respective areas of responsibility to resolve technical challenges to safe integration of UAS.
Closed on
No. 2 to FAA
Establish milestones for the work needed to determine the appropriate classification system for unmanned aircraft as a basis for developing the UAS regulatory framework.
Closed on
No. 3 to FAA
Establish a timeline for developing standardized training and procedures for air traffic controllers responsible for UAS operations.
Closed on
No. 4 to FAA
Assess and determine the requirements for automated tools to assist air traffic controllers in managing UAS operations in the NAS.
Closed on
No. 5 to FAA
Create a standardized framework for data sharing and analysis between FAA and UAS operators by (a) validating a sample of the data it currently receive from UAS operators; (b) finalizing an agreement with DoD for pertinent UAS operational data; and (c) completing development of a sharing and analysis database.
Closed on
No. 6 to FAA
Develop and implement a consistent process to review and approve COAs across FAA regions, adopt measures that increase process efficiency and oversight and provide necessary guidance and training to inspectors.
Closed on
No. 7 to FAA
Complete airspace simulation and safety studies of the impact of UAS operations on air traffic control across all segments of the NAS.
Closed on
No. 8 to FAA
Develop a mechanism to verify that the UAS Integration Office, all FAA lines of business, and field safety inspectors are effectively coordinating their UAS efforts.
Closed on
No. 9 to FAA
Determine the specific types of data and information needed from each of the six planned test ranges to facilitate safe integration of UAS into the NAS.
Closed on
No. 10 to FAA
Establish a more detailed implementation plan with milestones and prioritized actions needed to advance UAS integration in the near, mid and long term.
Closed on
No. 11 to FAA
Establish metrics to define progress in meeting implementation milestones as a basis for reporting to Congress.