WASHINGTON – The Federal Aviation Administration has not used collected data from a drone flight test program as mandated, a recent Government Accountability Office report suggested.
In 2012, Congress directed the FAA establish a program to integrate drones into the national airspace system, and it has since established seven nationwide test sites for that purpose. These sites have facilitated around 15,000 flight tests since 2015, according to the report, and the program is authorized until 2023, when the FAA will submit a report to Congress with information on the key capabilities needed to fully integrate drones.
In the Jan. 9 report, however, the GAO recommended the FAA develop a data analysis plan for gathered site data and publicly share more information as how the program contributes to the integration of drones, also known as unmanned aircraft systems, remains unclear. If these recommendations are not carried out, the FAA could fail to inform future drone integration efforts, the report suggested.
“All test site representatives and most users GAO interviewed […] said that more information on test sites’ research would be helpful for UAS stakeholders’ research efforts,” the report read. “By sharing more information publicly, FAA could demonstrate to such stakeholders how the agency is fostering and using research to inform and advance integration.”
The report came after another GAO report released in December on the FAA failure to keep track of all costs related to drone operations, resulting in incomplete information when identifying future costs.
In a letter by the Department of Transportation, the FAA said the findings “do not accurately characterize the FAA’s actions regarding the management of the Test Site Program.” The FAA only partially agreed with the recommendation to develop a plan to analyze collected data because, according to the letter, the agency cannot share data from private entities using the test sites. The GAO, in return, agreed to change some of the language to the first recommendation to address the issues the FAA raised.
The FAA agreed with the second recommendation to publicly share more information on how the program informs drone integration.
The FAA has 180 days from the report’s release to provide a response to each recommendation and demand any changes they deem necessary.
Chiara Vercellone is a reporter interning with Defense News, C4ISRNET and Fifth Domain Cyber