By Diana Cooper, President, Drone Operators Federation
During the December holidays, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released its much anticipated Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for remote identification (Remote ID) of drones. The Drone Operators’ Federation strongly supports the need for Remote ID, however we are concerned about how the proposal would impact drone operators, and we hope to see the FAA make some needed adjustments to the proposal in the months ahead.
Drone Operators Aren’t Given Flexibility to Comply
While the FAA typically prescribes performance-based rules that give flexibility to industry to choose among different means of compliance, in this case, the FAA is proposing a very prescriptive requirement for compliance with Remote ID. Under the proposal, the majority of drone operations would require the use of both broadcast and network solutions for Remote ID. What this means is that a drone would have to both broadcast its ID using a radio signal and also send the same information through an internet-based service.
Broadcast and network methods each have their own merits, however they do not make sense for all types of operations and that’s why operators need flexibility in compliance. For instance, many racing drones only fly a very short distance and therefore it’s fairly easy to identify the location of the pilot without having to tap into a network. Also, many of these models do not have the ability to connect to an internet service, so compliance would be challenging if both methods are required.
On the commercial side, there are sensitive missions that may be better conducted off-line. For instance, operators surveying critical infrastructure may prefer to fly without connecting to a network in order to reduce cybersecurity risks. Unfortuantely, the current proposal does not consider these nuanced cases and fails to give operators flexibility to comply.
As operators, we need to ask why this proposal represents a departure from the FAA’s typical performance-based approach to rulemaking, and to raise awareness of the consequences for operators.
Drone Pilots May be at Risk of Harm
Another problem with the proposal is that it requires the location of the drone’s ground control station to be made available to the public. Since the drone pilot is co-located with the ground control station, this information also discloses the pilot’s physical location to the public at large. There have been documented incidents across the country (readily searchable on YouTube) of drone pilots being targeted and attacked by people who are fearful of drones. Not only could this requirement subject pilots to potentially dangerous encounters, but it could also result in an increased interference with the safety of drone operations. While it is completely reasonable for law enforcement to have access to the ground control station location (and in effect, the pilot’s location), we worry that in the hands of the public, this information could lead to unintended and dangerous consequences.
Recreational Drone Operators will Face Increased Costs
The FAA proposes to charge $5 per aircraft for recreational registration, which will increase the cost of compliance. This increased registration cost contradicts the FAA’s 2015 Registration Task Force recommendations and may lead to lower compliance rates. Instead of charging $5 per aircraft registered by recreational operators, the FAA should encourage compliance by allowing these operators to register all of their aircraft without paying extra fees.
Although remote ID is poised to unlock future regulations for operations over people and beyond line of sight, the current proposal raises several concerns for operators that must be addressed before the final rule is in place. We strongly urge drone operators to provide comments to the FAA on how the proposal would impact their operations. The Alliance for Drone Innovation recently published a comment guide to help you and your organization with your Remote ID NPRM submission. We hope this guide can support your efforts to provide thoughtful, constructive feedback on this critically important rulemaking.
Comments should be submitted at the official Regulations.gov website prior to the March 2 deadline: https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=FAA-2019-1100-0001.