The FAA’s “overly conservative” approach to safety risk assessments creates a “significant barrier” to the development and implementation of drone technology, according to a report issued on Monday. Congress mandated the study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. “FAA needs to accelerate its move away from the ‘one size fits all’ philosophy for UAS operations,” said George Ligler, chair of the committee that conducted the study. “The FAA’s current methods for safety and risk management certainly ensure safety within the manned aircraft sector,” Ligler said, “but UASs present new and unique challenges and opportunities, which make it important for the agency to take a broader view on risk analysis.” Drone operations that could provide safety benefits have been prevented from entering the airspace because of the FAA’s application of risk-assessment techniques, the report found.
The FAA’s focus on passenger aircraft has contributed to the development of a “near-zero tolerance for risk,” the report found, and the same standards are applied to drones, which do not pose a direct threat to human life in the same way as manned aircraft.The focus of the FAA is often solely on what might go wrong, and the dialogue now needs to shift toward a more holistic assessment of risks, says the report. The National Academies are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to lawmakers to help inform public policy decisions related to science, technology and medicine. A prepublication copy of the report is posted online. A recent report by the Government Accountability Office also critiqued the FAA’s management of drone safety.