Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), commonly known as “drones,” are rapidly growing in number in the National Airspace System. Currently, there is limited infrastructure available to manage widespread expansion of small UAS operations in low-altitude airspace (below 400 feet) where the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not provide air traffic services. Congress directed FAA to conduct activities that will allow implementation of UAS Traffic Management (UTM), including a UTM Pilot Program. Citing the importance of UAS traffic management, the Ranking Members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and its Aviation Subcommittee requested that we evaluate FAA’s efforts to develop and implement UTM, including the pilot program and any interactions FAA has had with other Government agencies. Our objectives were to assess FAA’s (1) progress with UTM development and implementation, including results of its UTM Pilot Program, and (2) collaboration with other Government agencies regarding UTM.
What We Found
FAA has made initial progress in developing a UTM framework and testing UTM concepts through the UTM Pilot Program. For example, FAA continues to develop and refine its concept of operations and has deployed some initial UTM capabilities, such as an automated system for authorizing UAS operations near airports. However, FAA has not established milestones for implementing the policies and processes necessary to allow for UTM deployment or finalized how the Agency plans to use the UTM Pilot Program results to inform near-term efforts. While UTM stakeholders stated that the pilot program was successful, they noted common areas of concern with UTM implementation, such as slow progress, the need for additional rules for remotely identifying UAS, and lack of information on next steps. In addition, FAA has not yet completed coordination with other Government agencies.
FAA concurred with two of our four recommendations to improve FAA’s efforts to develop and implement a UTM and partially concurred with the other two. Based on FAA’s response, we consider all four recommendations resolved but open pending completion of planned actions.
No. 1 to FAA
Establish a process that requires FAA to review the UTM Pilot Program and Field Test results and determine whether the results can inform rulemaking, the final implementation plan, concept of operations documents, and the FAA BEYOND program.
No. 2 to FAA
Implement enhanced processes for communicating UTM information to update industry stakeholders on FAA’s plans for UTM implementation as well as ongoing efforts.
Closed on 07.28.2023
No. 3 to FAA
Develop milestones for near-term UTM efforts and broader timelines for when FAA expects to implement policies and processes for reviewing and approving UTM technologies and capabilities, and establish a process for measuring and updating progress with achieving the milestones.
No. 4 to FAA
Document FAA’s plan for continued collaboration with NASA and other Federal Agencies regarding ongoing and future UTM activities.