The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is taking an "overly conservative" approach to integrating drones into the national airspace, according to a report requested by Congress and released Monday by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine(NASEM).
The agency "tends to overestimate the severity and likelihood" of potential dangers associated with drones, NASEM said and maintains a "near-zero tolerance for risk" despite the life-saving potential of drones.
Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, as they're known in the aviation industry, have been used to deliver defibrillators to patients in cardiac distress, to assess raging wildfires, and even to drop inflatable devices to swimmers struggling in rough surf, the report noted. And, yet, the FAA seems to suffer from "paralysis," fearing a rogue drone could slam into a manned aircraft or drop out of the sky.
Regulators have already begun to acknowledge that they need to try to keep pace with evolving technology. Last month, the FAA launched a drone integration pilot program in ten locations, from Alaska to Florida. But the agency, which demands a high standard of safety from commercial aircraft, has struggled with how to address the risks associated with unmanned flying machines.
"For years, regulators kind of went at the pace of [the] industry. Well, the pace of industry accelerated dramatically," FAA Acting Administrator Dan Elwell said at a conference in Los Angeles last month.
Regulators need to at least attempt to "match industry innovation pace," he acknowledged.
NASEM advised the agency's approach to drones should be different from its attitude toward manned aircraft by "balancing risks with potential advantages."
"The FAA is working to safely accelerate UAS integration on multiple fronts," the agency told ABC News when asked about Monday's report.
"The report confirmed that the FAA executive team has a consistent approach to risk management," an FAA spokesperson continued. "The specific recommendations are aligned with FAA’s ongoing efforts and we see them as an endorsement of our efforts and encouragement to accelerate our efforts particularly in the area of change management."