A U.S. government watchdog agency says it is beginning an audit of the approval and oversight processes used by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in granting waivers to operators of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).
The Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) said last week that the audit was needed “given the significant safety implications of integrating UAS into the National Airspace System and the increasing number of both requested and approved UAS waivers.”
The FAA published a rule in June 2016 for operations of small UAS (aircraft weighing less than 55 lb [25 kg]), but the rule does not permit several potential uses of UAS, including operating at night or beyond the operator’s line of sight. Operators that want to engage in such operations may apply for waivers, and the FAA says it has received more than 1,000 applications since August 2016. Of these, 300 waivers have been approved.
“It is important that FAA’s waiver approval process does not result in prolonged delays, especially for operations already considered to be a low safety risk by the agency,” the OIG said.
The OIG added that it remains unclear “what type of oversight FAA will provide for this new technology, as we found that 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, expected to begin later in April, will focus on these areas, the OIG said.
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