Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) serve diverse sectors of the economy and are rapidly growing in number across the Nation. As UAS technology and physical and operational characteristics evolve, opportunities for some systems to evade detection and create challenges for the National Airspace System (NAS) arise. Many UAS are used for legitimate operations; however, the systems can also be used for malicious or disruptive activities by terrorists, criminal organizations, or other lone actors. To respond to these threats, private industry has developed countermeasure or mitigation technologies referred to as counter-UAS (C-UAS). Given the increasing safety and security concerns related to UAS, the Ranking Members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and its Subcommittee on Aviation requested that we assess the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) C-UAS coordination efforts. Accordingly, our objectives were to assess (1) FAA’s process for coordinating with other Federal agencies authorized to issue guidance and implement the use of C-UAS technologies and (2) strategies undertaken by FAA to ensure that the use of C-UAS technologies by other authorized agencies do not adversely affect aviation and aerospace safety.
What We Found
FAA is coordinating with Federal agencies that use UAS detection and C-UAS technologies to ensure there is no impact to the NAS by such use. However, FAA has not conducted a strategic assessment of the UAS detection and C-UAS program to ensure it has the resources needed and agile coordination processes in place to keep pace with increasing demand. Further, because FAA has not yet completed the necessary testing of UAS detection and C-UAS technologies, the Agency cannot fully assess their impact to aviation safety and security, and may not understand those impacts for several years.
FAA concurred with all three recommendations to improve the effectiveness of its C-UAS coordination and testing programs and provided appropriate actions and completion dates. We consider these recommendations resolved but open, pending completion of planned actions.
No. 1 to FAA
Conduct a UAS detection and C-UAS program assessment that includes a determination of future resource needs and organizational structure based on how to best align those resources.
No. 2 to FAA
Evaluate the UAS detection and C-UAS coordination request process to identify and correct inefficiencies to improve timeliness in anticipation of future program growth.
No. 3 to FAA
Finalize internal UAS detection and C-UAS request processing and document retention guidance.