After multiple delays, the FAA has finally announced a proposed rule for the remote identification (Remote ID) of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), commonly called drones. The proposal comes in the form of a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” (NPRM) — a public notice issued by law when the FAA wishes to make a change to their existing rules. The public only has a short, 60-day window to comment on the proposal before the FAA moves onto the next stages of finalizing the rule.
In this article, we provide an explanation of the NPRM, why it concerns us, and what you can do to help change this proposed rule before it’s finalized.
Image Source: FAA.gov
The FAA’s NPRM and How it Will Impact Drone Pilots
Remote ID technology enables people on the ground and other airspace users to locate other drones flying in the airspace near them, as well as gather other information about them such as who the pilot is. The NPRM outlines a framework for the widespread implementation of Remote ID technology among all drones flown in the United State’s airspace.
This is what the industry has been asking for isn’t it? No, not quite.
To be clear, we believe Remote ID is a necessity for the industry to move forward. We’re eager for a Remote ID standard that will put us on track to take on more advanced drone operations more frequently and with greater safety, like flying beyond visual line of sight, but this isn’t it.
We can say with some certainty that most drone pilots would comply with a rule to share their drone’s ID information with the federal government and law enforcement when necessary (i.e. instances in which law enforcement need to distinguish compliant drone pilots from those posing a safety or security risk) if it meant opening up the skies for more advanced drone operations.
However, the requirements outlined in the NPRM are more than drone users bargained for. With the way the NPRM is currently written, the FAA is asking drone users to share a lot more than just their drone’s location, and they want them to share their flight data not only with authorities but the general public as well. That’s a big ask.
Directly from the NPRM:
The remote identification message elements that operators would be required to transmit to a Remote ID USS under this rule would be considered publicly accessible information.
Oh, and the real kicker is that you (the drone operator) will be paying for it. The NPRM describes a data subscription plan that drone users would purchase from designated UAS Service Suppliers who will collect, record, and share your drone and flight operation data with the federal government, law enforcement, and the general public. The FAA has estimated that the subscription to a Remote ID USS will cost $2.50/month on average per operator.
What Information Will the FAA Require Drone Pilots to Share through Remote ID?
The data drone pilots will be required to share through Remote ID technologies depends on the category of their operation. The NPRM describes two categories — standard and limited.
Directly from the NPRM:
Standard remote identification UAS would be required to broadcast identification and location information directly from the unmanned aircraft and simultaneously transmit that same information to a Remote ID USS through an internet connection.
Limited remote identification UAS would be required to transmit information through the internet only, with no broadcast requirements; however, the unmanned aircraft would be designed to operate no more than 400 feet from the control station.
Here’s what data would be collected and publicly shared via Remote ID:
1) The identity of the UAS consisting of one of the following:
- the drone’s serial number
- a session ID (e.g. a randomly-generated alphanumeric code assigned by a Remote ID USS on a per-flight basis)
2) The control station’s latitude and longitude*
3) The control station’s barometric pressure altitude
4) A time mark
5) The emergency status of the UAS, which could include lost-link or downed aircraft
6) The unmanned aircraft’s latitude and longitude**
7) The unmanned aircraft’s barometric pressure altitude**
*The FAA would require that the person manipulating the flight controls of the UAS is co-located with the control station; therefore, knowing the control station location would also provide the location of the person manipulating the flight controls.
**Required only for standard remote identification UAS
The Public Would Have Access to Your Location While Operating a Drone
These seven pieces of information would be made available to your Remote ID USS and the general public. The additional information you supplied when registering your drone (such as your name and phone number) and your drone (like the model) would be kept private except when requested by law enforcement or the Federal Government.
Since operators are required to stay with the control station, this means drone pilots will be broadcasting their physical location to the public. That can raise some serious issues from pilots who operate in the same areas repeatedly or from their private homes. An individual who is disgruntled with your flight path that passes over their yard could easily determine your location and approach you with protests and complaints.
Image Source: DJI
Unfortunately, there are still many people who fear drones who don’t know what constitutes a legal drone flight. We’ve heard the stories of people threatening to shoot down a drone or take forceful action to prevent them from flying. Plain and simple, there are some crazy people out there. For this reason, an operator’s physical location should only be made available to law enforcement who can determine whether or not the operator is flying safely and in compliance with the rules set forth by the FAA and take action if needed.
The Leaky Roof of Remote ID — Implementation and Compliance
The concept of Remote ID has a solid foundation — create a system to identify unmanned aircraft in flight to create better situational awareness for other aircraft, increase safety, and expand operational capabilities. Companies have already begun to develop Remote ID systems that work. We’ve built the house, now let’s put a roof on it.
The FAA outlines three interdependent parts for the full (100%) implementation of Remote ID. The first is the proposed rule, the second is a network of Remote ID UAS Service Suppliers, and the third is the collection of technical requirements that standards-setting organizations will develop to meet design and production requirements described in the proposed rule.
Isn’t there something missing here? Where are the drone pilots in this equation — the people who actually have to use Remote ID and comply with this proposed rule if/when it is finalized? Compliance is where the leaks will form in this proposed rule. Without compliance, we’ve got a leaky roof and this rule is dead in the water.
DJI, the largest manufacturer of commercial drones, issued a statement saying they were in the process of reviewing the NPRM. The company has not yet provided any further comment, but their initial statement makes a valid point that Remote ID won’t happen if the burdens and costs on drone operators are too high.
As we review the FAA’s proposal, we will be guided by the principle, recognized by the FAA’s own Aviation Rulemaking Committee in 2017, that Remote Identification will not be successful if the burdens and costs to drone operators are not minimized.
— Brendan Schulman, DJI Vice President of Policy & Legal Affairs
There are nearly 1.5 million drones registered with the FAA. What will it take to get all of those equipped with Remote ID? The FAA envisions that within three years of the proposed rule becoming law, all UAS operating in U.S. airspace (commercial and recreational) will be compliant with the Remote ID requirements.
For those who can’t afford to (or just don’t want to) upgrade their technology or subscribe to a USS data plan in that three-year time frame, their operations will be severely limited. Drones not equipped with Remote ID will be required to operate within visual line of sight and within an FAA-recognized identification area.
Only areas established within a community-based organization (CBO), such as AMA fields, would be eligible to become an FAA-recognized identification area. That means no more flying at your local neighborhood park if your drone doesn’t have Remote ID capabilities. And your nearest FAA-recognized identification area could be hours away.
New sites won’t be built either. The FAA is only allowing 12 months from the effective date for CBO’s to apply for status as an FAA-recognized identification area, and no applications will be accepted after that date.
According to the NPRM, “certain amateur-built UAS” without Remote ID capabilities (presumably modelers and FPV drone racing pilots) and UAS manufactured before the compliance date will be restricted to use in FAA-recognized identification areas as well. Hence why many are saying this NPRM could be the death of the hobbyist drone pilot and model aircraft flyer.
Take Action — Submit Your Comments on the Remote ID NPRM Within the Next 60 Days
Considering the consequences that will be imparted on the recreational and commercial drone community if this proposed rule becomes law, it is essential for all of us to submit our feedback to the FAA during their open 60-day comment period.
Read the NPRM here, and compile a response to the FAA before the comment period closes after March 2, 2020. Comments can be submitted by any of the following means:
- Federal eRulemaking Portal: Go to http://www.regulations.gov and follow the online instructions for sending your comments electronically.
- Mail: Send comments to Docket Operations, M–30; U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE, Room W12–140, West Building Ground Floor, Washington, DC 20590–0001.
- Hand Delivery or Courier: Take comments to Docket Operations in Room W12–140 of the West Building Ground Floor at 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE, Washington, DC, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays.
- Fax: Fax comments to Docket Operations at 202–493–2251.
As we craft our own response to the FAA, we want to hear your thoughts. Join other drone pilots in the discussion of this NPRM on Remote ID in this thread on our community forum.