The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) released its recent audit of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), “FAA Lacks A Risk-Based Oversight Process For Civil Unmanned Aircraft Systems,” stating that while the FAA has taken continuous steps to advance the integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or ‘drones’) into the national airspace, the FAA is still however taking a “reactive approach to UAS oversight.” The audit reveals that while the FAA has taken steps to identify and detect UAS operations and increase awareness and education of operators (like requiring registration), “the agency has taken action primarily after incidents occur.”

Additionally, the OIG criticized the FAA’s processes for UAS operations because they do not verify that operators actually meet or understand the conditions and limitations in their exemptions. Further, while the FAA has taken steps to advance UAS technology, they have yet to establish a risk-based safety oversight process, or a robust data reporting and tracking system for UAS activity according to the OIG.

The OIG recommends that the FAA:

  • Create “specific milestones” that “update and maintain UAS guidance to keep pace with technological developments and incorporate inspector feedback.”
  • Establish “comprehensive and updated training for safety inspectors on UAS technologies and agency rules and guidance related to UAS oversight.”
  • Create a process to “perform inspections of commercial UAS operators based on operational factors.”
  • Create a “risk-based and prioritized oversight plan” for UAS.
  • Establish a process to “coordinate existing disparate UAS databases within [the] FAA to facilitate data mining and safety analysis.”
  • Establish processes for sharing UAS operations data with “field oversight offices to assist inspectors in risk-based and proactive oversight of civil UAS operations.”

The audit was conducted between October 2015 and October 2016.