The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) wrote in a report published last week that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has facilitated approximately 15,000 drone research flights since 2015, but that the FAA could make better use of the data it collects from these drone test flights.

Since 2015, both public and private entities have used the FAA test sites to assess technologies for numerous UAS activities, including inspecting utilities, carrying passengers, and package delivery. The GAO says this research provides a plethora of data on the performance of various drone capabilities and technologies that could greatly benefit the FAA’s drone integration efforts. The GAO further says that without a data analysis plan, the FAA could miss an opportunity to better use the data to inform and enhance overall integration and operational standards.

Additionally, the FAA reports only limited public information about how the research relates to its integration plans. The GAO believes more information on test sites’ research and results would be helpful for industry stakeholders’ own research efforts, which are typically used in conjunction with the FAA’s research to harmonize integration. The GAO further believes that if more information were available to stakeholders, then more stakeholders might use the FAA test sites to conduct their own research, which would, in turn, increase the data available to the FAA for the government’s integration efforts.

Overall, the GAO report recommended that the FAA:

  1. Develop a data analysis plan for test site data; and,
  2. Share more information on how this program informs integration, while protecting proprietary data.

The FAA has partially agreed to the first recommendation and fully agreed with the second recommendation. We will monitor the FAA’s efforts in these regards as the agency continues its drone integration efforts over the next year.