The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Inspector General has issued a damning report on the FAA’s oversight of commercial drones, saying that the agency has “limited knowledge of where UAS actually operate and limited means to oversee [commercial] operators.”
The Inspector General’s Audit Report, reposted here by Insurance Journal, concludes that the FAA is insufficiently trained, has poor communication systems,lacks good oversight process, and has not enforced drone laws sufficiently.
The report, authored by DOT’s Assistant Inspector General Matthew Hampton, is the result of a year-long audit of the FAA’s oversight of commercial drones performed between October 2015 and October 2016.
The report says that the FAA streamlined it’s process of granting commercial licensing for drone operators too quickly, resulting in slipshod procedures that did not track operators effectively or even ensure that operators understood the requirements clearly.
“[Streamling procedures allowed] FAA to increase its processing rate, and the rate of exemptions granted increased over five-fold in 1 month. However, FAA’s process does not verify that operators actually meet or understand the conditions and limitations6 of their exemptions either before or after the application is approved,” says the report. “Instead, FAA relies solely on information provided up front by applicants. As a result, we identified instances where exemption holders were not in compliance with their approval (e.g., flying a UAS without a required pilot’s license) or did not understand certain exemption provisions (e.g., prohibited night operations).”
Operators aren’t the only ones who come under fire for not thoroughly understanding the process. Hampton says that FAA staff is untrained on commercial drones and therefore unable to adequately oversee the process of granting commercial licenses: “FAA safety inspectors have received only limited UAS-related training and guidance,” writes Hampton. “For example, as of April 2016, there were no formal, instructor-led training courses and only two outdated online courses available to inspectors focused on UAS technology.”
The Audit found the lack of a risk-based process of oversight problematic, and criticized the FAA’s focus on education over enforcement. The report concludes with recommendations that include the development of comprehensive drone training for inspectors, improved communications systems with field offices, development of risk-based oversight procedures, and the periodic testing of commercial drone operators.