> our title:

GAO Faults FAA on UAV Airspace Integration

> original title:

Unmanned Aerial Systems: Efforts Made toward Integration into the National Airspace Continue, but Many Actions Still Required

(Source: US Government Accounting Office; issued Dec 10, 2014)

Testimony by Gerald L. Dillingham, Ph.D., GAO director, physical infrastructure issues, before the Subcommittee on Aviation, House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. December 10, 2014

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has made progress toward implementing the requirements defined in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (the 2012 Act). As of December 2014, FAA had completed 9 of the 17 requirements in the 2012 Act.

However, key requirements, such as the final rule for small unmanned aerial systems (UAS) operations, remain incomplete.

FAA officials have indicated that they are hoping to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking soon, with a timeline for issuing the final rule in late 2016 or early 2017. FAA has established the test sites as required in the Act, sites that will provide data on safety and operations to support UAS integration.

However, some test site operators are uncertain about what research should be done at the site, and believe incentives are needed for industry to use the test sites. As of December 4, 2014, FAA granted seven commercial exemptions to the filmmaking industry allowing small UAS operations in the airspace. However, over 140 applications for exemptions were waiting to be reviewed for other commercial operations such as electric power line monitoring and precision agriculture.

Previously, GAO reported that several federal agencies and private sector stakeholders have research and development efforts under way focusing on technologies to allow safe and routine UAS operations. During GAO’s ongoing work, FAA has cited many accomplishments in research and development in the past fiscal year in areas such as detect and avoid, and command and control. Other federal agencies also have extensive research and development efforts supporting safe UAS integration, such as a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) project to provide research that will reduce technical barriers associated with UAS integration. Academic and private sector companies have researched multiple areas related to UAS integration.

GAO’s ongoing work found that other countries have progressed with UAS integration and allow limited commercial use. A 2014 MITRE study found that Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Canada have progressed further than the United States with regulations that support commercial UAS operations.

For example, as of December 2014, Australia had issued 180 UAS operating certificates to businesses in industries including aerial surveying and photography. In addition, Canada recently issued new regulations exempting commercial operations of small UASs weighing 25 kilograms (55 lbs.) or less from receiving special approval.

Click here for the full statement (22 PDF pages) on the GAO website.