The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has announced an audit of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) “approval and oversight processes” for Part 107 waivers for unmanned aerial systems (UAS) operations. The audit will begin before month’s end and will assess the FAA’s processes for granting waivers and its “risk-based oversight” for those UAS operators who receive waivers. Under Part 107 waivers, UAS operators may apply for a waiver to operate the UAS by completing an online application that requires information on how the operator intends to safely conduct the operation. The sections of Part 107 that can be waived include:
- Operations from a moving vehicle or aircraft (§ 107.25);
- Daylight operation (§ 107.29);
- Visual line of sight aircraft operations (§ 107.31);
- Visual observer (§ 107.33);
- Operation of multiple UAS (§ 107.35);
- Yielding right of way (§ 107.37);
- Operation over people (§ 107.39);
- Operation in certain airspace (§ 107.41);
- Operating limitations (i.e., visibility) (§ 107.51).
The OIG says in its memorandum, found here, “It is important that the FAA’s waiver approval process does not result in prolonged delays, especially for [UAS] operations already considered to be a low safety risk by the agency.” As of January 23, 2017, the FAA has granted approximately 300 Part 10 waivers. The OIG is now conducting this audit due to the “significant safety implications of integrating UAS into the National Airspace System and the increasing number of both requested and approved UAS waivers.” The OIG is concerned because the FAA “lacks a robust data reporting and tracking system for UAS activity, and aviation safety inspectors received limited training and guidance on UAS oversight.”
The audit will take place at the FAA’s headquarters and field offices, as well as at commercial UAS operators’ sites.