Committee Leaders Call on GAO to Review Status of FAA’s Efforts to Integrate Drones into the Nation’s Airspace
Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO), Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Rick Larsen (D-WA), and Subcommittee Ranking Member Garret Graves (R-LA) are requesting the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) review efforts by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to integrate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the National Airspace System (NAS). UAS continue to provide Americans many social and economic benefits and have proven themselves to be critical tools in supporting numerous industry activities and public safety efforts, including aiding in disaster and wildfire response and search and rescue missions. According to the FAA, there are nearly 1.8 million FAA-registered UAS and more than 200,000 certified remote UAS pilots in the United States.
“The emergence and continued growth of UAS is expected to provide significant social and economic benefits in the United States,” the Members wrote. “UAS operations offer a virtually unlimited number of potential applications, including inspecting critical infrastructure, surveying rural lands and agricultural crops, and delivering medical supplies and packages to a consumer’s backyard. Additionally, UAS have already proven themselves to be critical tools in supporting public safety by aiding in disaster and wildfire response and search and rescue missions, among others.”
“Over the years, the FAA has initiated numerous efforts to further the research and development of integration efforts as well,” the Members continued, “All these efforts sound promising, but lack of clarity about how they will come together for safe UAS integration is a cause for concern. For example, it is unclear to the Committee how the BEYOND program, related rulemakings, other research, and technology development efforts, as well as operational and budget considerations, will coalesce to help realize tangible UAS integration in the NAS.”
The Members concluded by requesting GAO study the status of the FAA’s UAS integration efforts, including the BEYOND program, and identify to what extent have these efforts been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. They also requested GAO seek input from interested stakeholders regarding any additional steps necessary to address UAS integration challenges and evaluate how the FAA intends for its efforts on a number of fronts to culminate in full and safe UAS integration.
The full letter text can be found here.