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IG Audits FAA Over Drone Waiver Process

Drone regulations are drawing scrutiny.

WASHINGTON—Drone regulations are drawing scrutiny. The inspector general’s office of the U.S. Department of Transportation is auditing the waiver process used by the Federal Aviation Administration to allow operations now prohibited under the rules adopted last June for unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds. These include flying out line-of-sight, flying over people, and night-time operations.

“According to FAA, since the rule was implemented in August 2016, the Agency has received over 1,000 applications for waivers and granted over 300 of them to UAS operators,” the DOT audit memo stated. (Click memo image to bring up .pdf version.)

The IG noted in an audit report issued last December that the FAA needed to streamline its waiver process to keep pace with the requests, “especially for operations already considered to be a low safety risk by the agency.” The IG also found that the FAA provided limited oversight of exempted drone operators that did not have an “established risk-based safety oversight process.”

The memo, authored by Matthew E. Hampton, assistant inspector general for Aviation Audits, further said, “ It is still unclear what type of oversight FAA will provide for this new technology, as we found that FAA lacks a robust data reporting and tracking system for UAS activity, and aviation safety inspectors received limited training and guidance on UAS oversight. Given the significant safety implications of integrating UAS into the National Airspace System and the increasing number of both requested and approved UAS waivers, we are initiating an audit of FAA’s current approval and oversight processes for UAS waivers.”

The audit commenced this month and is being conducted out of FAA headquarters.

Current FAA rules restrict “flight over people,” with the exception of individuals in parked vehicles, and subject to waiver on a case-by-case basis. The agency intended to complete rules for flight over people by by now. (See, “FAA to Propose Drone Flight Over People Rule by Winter.)

This article originally appeared on GV’s sister publication TV Technology