FAA's Progress and Challenges in Integrating Unmanned Aircraft Systems into the National Airspace System
The Assistant Inspector General for Aviation Audits testified on the Federal Aviation Administration’s efforts to integrate Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) into the National Airspace System (NAS). To help meet the rapidly growing demand for UAS, the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 directed FAA to take multiple steps to advance UAS integration, with the goal of safely integrating UAS into the NAS by 2015. In his testimony, the Assistant Inspector General focused on (1) FAA’s progress in implementing the UAS requirements cited in the act; (2) the technological, regulatory, and management challenges to UAS integration; and (3) key actions needed to advance UAS integration. First, the Assistant Inspector General noted that FAA has completed more than half of the UAS milestones in the act, such as selecting six test sites. However, he added that FAA is behind on the act’s remaining requirements and will not meet the act’s goal of achieving safe UAS integration by September 2015. The Assistant Inspector General also stated that FAA faces considerable technological, regulatory, and management challenges in expanding UAS operations. These include preventing loss of connectivity with aircraft and reaching consensus on design and certification standards. The Assistant Inspector General closed with several key actions needed to advance UAS integration, including gathering and analyzing critical operational safety data; determining the research needed from test sites; developing standardized training, automated tools, and procedures for air traffic controllers; and creating an integrated budget document.