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United States Government Accountability Office—FAA Lacks Reliable Information about the Extent of Unsafe Use of sUAS in the NAS

United States Government Accountability Office—FAA Lacks Reliable Information about the Extent of Unsafe Use of sUAS in the NAS

In the current era, the use of commercial drones and hobby piloting is rising. Many industries and businesses have discovered the cost savings and higher efficiency of drones for their operations. Leisure enthusiasts find greater challenges in speed, photography, and recreational uses of drones. The airspace has many times the drone traffic of just a few years back. Against this backdrop, the Government Accounting Office found that the FAA lacks an adequate information base to regulate small, unmanned aerial systems properly.

The FAA Regulates Drone Usage

The FAA regulations and compliance with them are the heart of federal drone safety. In an environment that requires a significant degree of voluntary compliance, the FAA has not maintained a balance with systems and programs that enhance observation and reporting of suspicious, unlawful, or dangerous use of unmanned aerial systems. Particularly of concern, the public should know that it has a role in detecting and reporting certain drone types of activities. The GAO findings are summarized in the items below.

  • FAA does not collect enough data
  • The data that FAA does collect is incomplete and inaccurate
  • The systems for reporting events and occurrences are insufficient

GAO Assessment is Important

The GAO is the government watchdog that continuously assesses government agency performance against their statutory missions and organizational goals. GAO has expertise in management assessment and watches for wasteful and unproductive spending. They also have authority to assess basic performance against the missions set out in legislation. They ask critical questions: Is the agency doing the job that the Congress requires of them? Are the beneficiaries of the national policy getting the intended benefits?

The intended impact of the laws and rules is to promote public safety while we promote drone technology and innovation. The public is the intended beneficiary of the policies that regulate small UAS and require safety, drone training, licensing, and education for drone operators. Clearly, accurate data about the degree of UAS in US airspace is the foundation for effective oversight, regulation, and enforcement. The FAA will have to respond to the findings of the GAO both in terms of addressing the specific findings but also concerning presenting its efforts to Congressional oversight committees.


As technological innovation expands the use of drones, the need for effective commercial drone regulation and drone safety protocols will increase. The industry is still in its fledgling growth stages, but the rate of growth is fundamental and robust. Each year, more enterprises begin to adapt their processes to drones technology. The FAA may have gotten a wake-up call from the GAO, and it still has time to act to improve its information base on small and commercial drones. The drone industry supports the drone safety policy and the FAA efforts to improve data on unsafe drone operations.