April 27, 2022
Requested by the Ranking Members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and its Subcommittee on Aviation
FAA Made Progress Through Its UAS Integration Pilot Program, but FAA and Industry Challenges Remain To Achieve Full UAS Integration
What We Looked At
Recognizing that Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) is the fastest growing segment of the aviation industry and in response to a Presidential Memorandum, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) initiated the 3-year UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP) in 2017. Through the IPP, FAA worked with selected State, local, and tribal governments, who partnered with private sector entities (e.g., UAS operators) to accelerate safe integration and help develop new rules to enable more complex UAS operations in the National Airspace System (NAS). After ending the IPP as planned in October 2020, FAA launched a follow-on program called BEYOND to address remaining UAS-related challenges, including operations beyond visual line of sight. Citing the importance of the IPP’s efforts, the Ranking Members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and its Subcommittee on Aviation requested that we assess FAA’s IPP, including next steps. Accordingly, our audit objectives were to assess (1) the results of FAA’s IPP and (2) FAA’s plans for using those results, including how the Agency will incorporate them into its new program BEYOND.
What We Found
While FAA made progress advancing UAS operations through the IPP, results did not fully meet industry and participant expectations and integration challenges remain. Further, challenges with planning, data requirements, and the Agency’s organization hindered the IPP’s overall success. FAA also faced challenges balancing the need to ensure aviation safety with UAS innovation, especially given the complexity of proposed operations. In addition, issues coordinating across multiple FAA lines of business and Agency turnover contributed to participant frustration and program challenges. Finally, while FAA incorporated lessons learned and best practices into BEYOND, challenges that limited the IPP’s success remain. As a result, it is uncertain when FAA and industry will be positioned to enable operations beyond visual line of sight that are economically viable throughout the NAS.
We made six recommendations to improve FAA’s use of UAS IPP results, including in its current program, BEYOND. FAA concurred with all six of our recommendations and provided appropriate actions and planned completion dates.