GAO offers insight into FAA UAV progress

GAO offers insight into FAA UAV progress

Agency is making strides, but chances are final rules aren't in the works until late 2016.

The wheels of government turn slowly, at least from the perspective of a lot of businesses, but they do turn and in the case of the Federal Aviation Administration and new rules for unmanned aerial vehicles, they seem to be fast enough. The U.S. Government Accountability Office has issued a report noting that the FAA has progressed toward its goal of "seamlessly integrating unmanned aerial system flights into the national airspace."

FAA continues to work on final rules, which may come by the end of 2016. Yes, 2016, but the agency is approving UAV uses on a case-by-case basis.

However, the work continues on final rules. In the meantime, FAA has been working to approve business-case uses of UAV machines on a case-by-case basis; and many of those have been for agriculture. Work continues on final rules for use and FAA is working with MITRE to develop a foundation for an implementation plan. Those FAA approvals have increased every year since 2010, including commercial use of unmanned aerial systems for the first time.

Related: Tool created to help determine farmer ROI on UAV use

Those six designated test sites are up and running but GAO reports that the sites have "had to address various challenges during the process." The sites became operational in 2014, and as of March 2015, more than 195 test flights had taken place. According to GAO "these flights provide operations and safety data to FAA in support of UAS integration." In addition, FAA has provided all test sites with a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization allowing small UAS operations below 200 feet anywhere in the United States.

One challenge the test sites ran into was direction. The site directors sought added guidance regarding the type of research they should conduct and FAA notes it cannot direct the test sites. However, FAA did provide a list of potential research areas for the sites. The agency has also named an FAA UAS Center of Excellence at Mississippi State University.


The Centers of Excellence will be a partnership between academia, industry and government concerning future research. Unlike FAA's agreements with test sites, arrangements exist with the Center to share data.

The report looked at other countries where UAS operations are expanding and how the tools are being used. The report notes that Australia, Canada, France and the United Kingdom "have well-established UAS regulations."

Related: 15 universities come together for UAV research

GAO notes that while U.S. rules are not finalized they are similar to those in the established countries the agency examined. "However, FAA may not issue a final rule for UASs until late 2016 or early 2017, and rules in some of these countries continue to evolve," the agency reports. GAO notes that other countries, like the U.S., are experiencing difficulties with UAS machines in avoiding aircraft and obstacles.

Check out the full GAO report.

Source: Government Accountability Office

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