A GAO report has found that the Federal Aviation Administration should improve its management of safety risks associated with small UAS.
GAO found that FAA’s information on the extent of unsafe use of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the national airspace system is limited. Although the agency collects data on several types of safety events involving small UAS, the accuracy and completeness of the data are questionable. For example, since 2014, pilots and others have reported to FAA over 6,000 sightings of UAS, often flying near manned aircraft or airports, but FAA officials told GAO that FAA cannot verify that small UAS were involved in most of the sightings.
Officials explained that small UAS are often difficult for pilots to identify definitively and typically are not picked up by radar. Such data limitations impede the agency’s ability to effectively assess the safety of small UAS operations. FAA is taking steps to improve its data. For example, it is developing a web-based system for the public to report any sightings of UAS that are perceived to be a safety concern and a survey of UAS users on their UAS operational activity. FAA did not have time frames for completing these efforts, but according to FAA, each of the efforts is underway and at varying stages of development. FAA is also evaluating technologies for detecting and remotely identifying UAS, and that could improve data on unsafe use.
Of the five key principles of safety risk management in its policies, FAA — in its regulatory efforts related to small UAS — followed two and partially followed three.
GAO recommends that the administrator of FAA should establish a mechanism, such as an internal review procedure, to ensure that FAA’s management of safety risks posed by small UAS operations in the National Airspace System follows all applicable principles and requirements in FAA’s policies.