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GAO pushes FAA for a stronger drone safety strategy

Photo: AndreyPopov/iStockphoto

Washington — The Federal Aviation Administration needs a comprehensive strategy “to safely integrate drones into the national airspace system,” a new Government Accountability Office report concludes.

GAO recommends that FAA more clearly communicate requirements for “more complex operations involving multiple and highly automated drones.”

FAA regulates the commercial use of drones – also known as unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS – under 14 CFR Part 107. Citing FAA forecasts, GAO says commercial drone use is likely to expand to 858,000 in 2026 from 622,000 in 2021 “as commercial drones become operationally more efficient and safe, battery life expands, and drone regulations evolve to support more complex drone operations.”

After analyzing FAA planning documents and reports and interviewing 15 industry stakeholders, GAO found that conflicting rule interpretations were common. “FAA officials stated they are developing a drone integration strategy,” the report notes. ”However, the strategy’s release has been delayed multiple times, and whether the strategy will provide a comprehensive approach is unclear.”

Speaking during a GAO podcast, Heather Krause, the report’s corresponding author and a director in GAO’s physical infrastructure team, said FAA planning documents “were not well-coordinated” and often lacked attributes including goals, objectives, performance metrics and milestones “to really ensure that FAA’s activities are effectively supporting their efforts.”

The report includes feedback from various community representatives who expressed concern about the overall safety of drone operations. Safety risks for crewed aviation and “general fears” about the potential risks of drones crashing to the ground were raised. Krause acknowledges that FAA has made progress on integrating routine, low-risk drone operations but says the agency needs to “tackle” integrating advanced operations.

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