The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has only limited information on the extent of unsafe use of small drones in the National Airspace System, a government watchdog agency says.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said, in a report issued in late May, that although the FAA collects data on several types of safety events involving small drones — unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) weighing less than 55 lb (25 kg) — “the accuracy and completeness of the data are questionable.”
As an example, the report cited data showing that, since 2014, more than 6,000 sightings have been reported of drones flying near airports or near manned aircraft; the FAA, however, cannot verify whether the objects sighted were, in fact, drones.
“Small UAS are often difficult for pilots to identify definitively and typically are not picked up by radar,” the report said. “Such data limitations impede the agency’s ability to effectively assess the safety of small UAS operations.”
The report noted that the FAA is working to improve its drone data collection methods in several ways, including developing a web-based system to enable the public to report sightings of drones that are perceived to be safety concerns.
The document added that the FAA agreed with a GAO recommendation calling for establishment of “a mechanism to ensure that FAA’s management of small UAS safety risks follows all applicable principles and requirements.”