GAO UAS report highlights 3 major elements of US industry

By Luke Geiver | December 22, 2014

The U.S. Government Accountability Office has issued an update on the integration of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) into the national airspace (NAS). The GAO, which audits, evaluates and acts as the investigative arm for Congress, highlighted three main elements of the U.S. UAS industry in its 22-page report. Although the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has made progress since it began working to integrate unmanned aerial vehicles into the NAS in 2012, it still has several key milestones to meet. In addition to an update on the FAA’s progress, the report also noted that several federal and private stakeholders are currently working on research and development efforts that will help to integrate UAVs into the NSA. And, while work continues to bring UAVs into the U.S. on a commercial scale, it appears the U.S. has fallen behind countries such as Japan, Australia and Canada, the report pointed out.

As of December, the FAA has completed 9 of its 17 requirements from its initial plan outlined in 2012. But, the FAA has fallen behind the initial timeline plan regarding its responsibility to draft, issue and implement the first part of its overall final rule on UAVs. The notice for proposed rulemaking for small UAVs has yet to be released, the report pointed out. Although the FAA-selected test sites are all functioning, the report also noted that some test site operators are uncertain about what research should or could be done, and “believe incentives are needed for industry to use the test sites.”

Progress with certificates of authorization is also moving slow, the report found. To date, 13 COAs have been issued, but another 140 are waiting for FAA review.

As the FAA works to manage the test sites and issue COAs while drafting unprecedented rules for the UAS industry, federal and private stakeholders are offering positive accomplishments for detect and avoid abilities along with command and control setups. The GAO report cited many examples of research and development completed in 2014 that will help to make integration into the NAS possible. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has worked on multiple areas, along with many other private stakeholders, the report said.

Although progress is being made, and the FAA’s final rule for UAS could be issued in 2016 or 2017, other countries have continued their progress in UAS and surpassed the U.S. “Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada have progressed further than the U.S. with regulations that support commercial UAS operations,” the report noted. The U.S. NAS is vastly different than any other in the world, the FAA has repeatedly said, however.

To view the full report, click here.