FAA in danger of missing drone deadline

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is in danger of missing a congressionally mandated deadline for expanding the use of nonmilitary drones in the U.S., according to a report that was conducted by the Department of Transportation's inspector general.

DOT Inspector General Calvin Scovel III said in the report that the FAA "is significantly behind schedule in meeting most of the [unmanned aerial systems] UAS-related provisions of the [2012] FAA Modernization and Reform Act."

Scovel said the result of the delays is that the FAA is likely to miss the 2015 deadline set by Congress for the agency to approve the expansion of U.S. drone use.

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"Although FAA is taking steps to advance UAS operations, significant technological barriers remain in achieving safe integration largely because current UAS have a limited ability to detect and avoid other air traffic," Scovell said in the report.

"In addition, FAA has not established a regulatory framework for UAS integration, such as aircraft certification requirements, standard air traffic procedures, or an adequate controller training program," the report continued. "FAA is also not effectively collecting and analyzing UAS safety data or managing its oversight of UAS operations…These delays are due to unresolved technological, regulatory, and privacy issues and will ultimately prevent the Agency from meeting Congress’s September 2015 deadline for achieving safe UAS integration."

The FAA has been testing the interaction between drones and other types of commercial and private airplanes at multiple sites across the country.

The agency is facing increased pressure to approve the use of drones quickly because online companies such as Amazon have said they can be used to speed up delivery times.

The FAA recently approved a commercial drone flight, but the agency has previously shut down operations by groups such as the Washington Nationals baseball team and a Minnesota beer company.

Scovell said the FAA was behind schedule on an "August 2014 milestone for issuing a final rule on small UAS operations," despite the testing.  

"FAA has completed 9 of the act’s 17 UAS provisions, such as selecting 6 test sites, publishing a UAS Roadmap, 3 and developing a comprehensive plan outlining FAA’s UAS plans in the near- and long-term," the report says. "However, the agency missed the statutory milestones for most of these provisions, and much work remains to fully implement them.

"FAA is also behind schedule in implementing the remaining eight UAS provisions," Scovell continued, citing the August deadline.

"FAA’s delays are due to unresolved technological, regulatory, and privacy issues which will prevent FAA from meeting Congress’ September 30, 2015, deadline for achieving safe UAS integration. As a result, while it is certain that FAA will accommodate UAS operations at limited locations, it is uncertain when and if full integration of UAS into the NAS will occur."

The full report on the FAA's drone progress can be read here.