The FAA should improve its approach to integrating drones into the National Airspace System

Why GAO Did This Study

Drones can provide significant social and economic benefits. For example, drones can be used to inspect infrastructure, aid in disaster and wildfire response, and deliver medical supplies.

GAO was asked to review FAA’s efforts to integrate drones into the national airspace system. This report examines, among other issues, the extent to which:

(1) FAA’s approach to managing its drone integration efforts is consistent with key elements for a comprehensive strategy and

(2) FAA has clearly communicated its requirements and process for reviewing and approving operational requests.

GAO analyzed FAA’s planning documents and reports. GAO interviewed FAA officials, eight participants in one of FAA’s pilot programs, and 15 industry groups, representing manufacturers, operators, and others. GAO selected industry stakeholders due to their participation in FAA pilot programs and rulemaking advisory committees, among other factors.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making four recommendations, including that FAA:

(1) develop a drone integration strategy that includes all elements of a comprehensive strategy
(2) evaluate its current documentation to identify options to more clearly communicate how
applicants can satisfy drone operational request requirements and FAA’s process for reviewing and
approving operational requests. FAA concurred with GAO’s recommendations.