By Vic Moss:
You know it’s a confusing issue when you have to scrap the first article you’re writing and start over on a new one. I had to stop and start my first call to action article so many times, and move so many paragraphs back and forth, that it ended up sounding like the last minute, coffee-fueled, all-nighter Psych 101 term paper. One that would probably prompt the professor of that class to start wondering why you were enrolled in his class in the first place.
So, take two…
There is no way a normal person can read this 319-page behemoth NPRM, analyze it, gather their thoughts, and then formulate an article explaining the entirety of its ins and outs, all while keeping it to a reasonable length.
To be transparent, this NPRM is not a complete disaster. The simple fact that we have an actual published NPRM is a victory for both the FAA and the UAS community, albeit even if this proposal is many steps backwards. And there are parts of this that can be worked with, and built upon, but for the most part, this is a mess.
Don’t panic about getting your comments posted. The FAA must read every one of them, and you have until March 2nd to get them in. So sit back, take notes, read as many articles and listen to as many podcasts as you can, then put your thoughts onto paper, and copy them to the comments section of the NPRM. The better organized your comments are, the more weight they’ll have with those reading them.
“This sucks, I’m not going to follow these rules!” is not a well thought out comment, and even harms the industry. We saw many like that during the last FAA UAS NPRM. Remember, you’re commenting as a member of the UAS community, and everything you say reflects on all of us. The better and the more organized we sound as a group, the more likely the FAA will take our concerns seriously. And there are some very serious concerns in the Remote Identification Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (RID NPRM).
Unlike some articles I’m sure we’ll see published in the coming weeks, we at Drone U aren’t going to tell you what to say. Formulaic comments that sound the same are disregarded and don’t hold the same weight as the comments made by those who take the time to write their own and write it in their own words. So the CBO members who copy and paste the comments they receive from their CBO, won’t have the same weight as the comments from those of us who take the time to formulate our own. Read those articles for sure, but please don’t copy and paste them into yours. We saw so much of that last time, and it was truly disappointing.
So, enough with the pep-talk, let’s get started.
In this article I’ll cover some of the basics of the NPRM, and discuss what I consider at this time three of the main issues with the NPRM.
Once Drone RID is fully implemented, all UAS will fall into three different categories: Standard remote identification UAS; Limited remote identification UAS; and UAS without remote identification. And once implemented, no person may fly a UAS in U.S. airspace unless the operation is conducted under one of the three aforementioned categories. So let’s break down each one.
Standard Remote Identification UAS
UAS under this category would be required to broadcast “message elements” (more on that later) directly from the UAV, as well as be connected to the internet and simultaneously transmit that same data, either from the UAV or from the Ground Station. If internet isn’t available for the flight, the flight is still permitted as long as the UAV maintains its ability to broadcast the elements.
The vast majority of commercial, and a good portion of hobby flights will take place under this category.
Limited Remote Identification UAS
This category would include UAV that do not have the ability to broadcast message elements, yet have ground stations that can connect to the internet and transmit the message elements. Flights would have to remain connected to the internet, and are limited to operations within visual line of site, and no mare than 400′ from the ground station.
This may include a limited number of drones, mostly low cost-off-the-shelf beginner drones, possibly some drone light shows, and small mapping type missions. There may also be some manufacturers target this category with future releases.
UAS without remote identification
UAS flying under this category would be limited to such areas as AMA fields, or other “FAA-recognized identification areas” (FRIA). FRIA would be an area run by an FAA recognized Community Based Organizations (CBO). Any UAS flown under this category “must operate within visual line of sight and within the boundaries of a FRIA”. That mean no flying past the boundaries of your field. How often do you fly strictly within your property lines if you belong to a model flying club?
This would be disastrous to the hobby and FPV communities. More later…
You’ll see this term frequently in the NPRM, and I’ve even used it a few times already in this article. So let’s talk a little about what that is. Message Elements are what will be broadcast or transmitted by either the UAV, and/or a different part of the UAS, such as the ground station or monitor (phone/tablet).
Each UAS and/or ground station would need to transmit or broadcast the following Message Elements under Standard RID UAS category (NPRM Pg. 26):
• The identity of the UAS consisting of one of the following:
~The serial number assigned to the unmanned aircraft by the producer or,
~Session ID assigned by a Remote ID USS. (We’ll talk about Session ID in a subsequent article)
• An indication of the latitude and longitude of the control station and unmanned aircraft.
• An indication of the barometric pressure altitude of the control station and unmanned aircraft.
• A Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) time mark.
• An indication of the emergency status of the UAS, which could include lost-link or downed aircraft.
For Limited RID UAS, the same would apply except that only the Ground Station or monitor would be required to transmit the elements. There is no need for the UAV to broadcast them. By definition, UAV flown under this category would not be able broadcast.
Another aspect of this NPRM that will upset hobbyist is that they will no longer be allowed to use one registration number for each of the drones they own. The FAA justifies this by saying that in order to satisfy the RID requirements all drones must be registered under Part 47 or Part 48.
And the registration requirements for Part 48 states that “all registrations of unmanned aircraft with remote identification include the serial number assigned by the producer of the unmanned aircraft. The serial number would be used to provide a unique identity to each unmanned aircraft for remote identification purposes.“ (pg. 79)
If a person has multiple drones registered under the same number, they would not pass the requirement that the serial number of the drone be tied to the registration. So maybe now would be a good time to talk about what the registration requires. RID will be tied to this information, but this registration information will not be made available to the public.
Registration of each drone would require:
FRIA requirements are interesting as well. They include:
Each FRIA “would be in effect for 48 calendar months after the date the FAA approves the request for establishment of an FAA-recognized identification area.” Requests for renewal would be required no later than 120 days from expiration date. Requests for geographical changes is the FRIA boundaries must be made in writing. No changes can be made until the review process is approved or denied. The same criteria for initial approval will have to be met for any subsequent change requests.
And unless renewed, an FRIA will be automatically cancelled.
And, according to 89.230, “FAA would be able to terminate an FAA-recognized identification area for cause or upon a finding that the FAA-recognized identification area could pose a risk to aviation safety, public safety, or national security or that the person who submitted a request for establishment of an FAA-recognized identification area provided false or misleading information during the submission process.” If terminated, the CBO may petition for reconsideration within 30 days of issuance of termination. If no petition is applied for, the CBO may not reapply to have the flying site reestablished.
So for me, the three most important aspects of the Remote Identification NPRM are:
Here are the issues I see for each of those, and what we need to include in our comments.
Standard and limited categories are the ones with the most issues. UAS without RID is an issue too, but we’ll get to that. For Standard and Limited, the main issues are cost and connectivity.
For cost, what is the expected data usage for the internet requirements? Has anyone studied that? If we’re supposed to transmit continually, how much data will that eat up? The string probably won’t be much more than a text, but how frequently will we need to transmit that string? What is “real time”? What is the format of the message elements going to look like?
As I mentioned in my last article, if I’m forced to upgrade to an unlimited data plan, I’m looking at an additional $60 per month. And after a certain data usage, my speed gets throttled back. What will that do to my connectivity?
And speaking of connectivity, what does “when available” mean when the NPRM says, “The FAA is proposing to require standard remote identification UAS and limited remote identification UAS to connect automatically to the internet, when available, and transmit remote identification message elements through that internet connection to a Remote ID USS.” (pg. 101)
Two very frequent issues, and ones that are already being discussed are: what if your carrier doesn’t have service in an area, yet another does; what about areas of poor service?
I have AT&T, and my VO/Assistant has Verizon. There are times when I have service, and he may not, and vice versa. If I’m in an area where AT&T doesn’t have service, but Verizon does, do I need to carry enough cellular devices to be able to connect to every cell provider? Would I be required to use my VO’s data? Should I ask a stranger if I can borrow their cell phone?
And quality of service is another issue. Here in Colorado I’m shooting frequently out on the Eastern Plains, and up in small towns in the Rockies. There are times when I am actually on a 3G network. I can barely get texts there, much less connect to the internet. But technically, internet is available. I could probably fly under Standard rules, but not under Limited. This needs to be addressed.
Here is the red flag to end all red flags in this NPRM. Under normal circumstances, I have no problem with people knowing it’s me flying a drone. As a matter of fact, both my VO and I wear Hi-Vis vests when we’re flying. One of his jobs is to talk to people when they inevitably come up and start asking questions. And we’ve been blessed in that we’ve never had any real issues with anyone. Everyone we’ve dealt with is only curious and we’ve had some great opportunities to be Drone Ambassadors. But I have no doubt I’m in the minority here. The majority of my friends and drone people I deal with online have had more than their share of issues with people upset there is a drone in that air. Many of those have ended up becoming physical.
So what does the Message Element have to do with location? Plenty.
As mentioned above, Message Elements, for both the Standard and Limited categories, are required to contain, “An indication of the latitude and longitude of the control station.” Folks, we are the “control station” during the vast majority of the time our drones are in the air. Additionally the NPRM further states, “the FAA anticipates that the message elements related to any standard remote identification UAS or limited remote identification UAS are publicly available information and may be accessed by any person able to receive a broadcast or who has access to a Remote ID USS”.
My location being accessible to any Joe Public with an axe to grind about drones is a non-starter. I have zero issue with Law Enforcement knowing it. It would be silly not to let them know. That’s sort of the point of RID. And this is the general consensus of almost every drone pilot I’ve talked to. I’m not advocating for this, but compliance will be virtually nil if this makes it into the final rule. And nil compliance would make RID impotent.
Hobbyists are getting the short end of the stick
The final thing I want to discuss in this article is what this will do to the hobbyists. I’ve discussed a bit, but I want to dive deeper. And before anyone thinks, “Meh, it’s just the hobbyist (I hate that there is a divide), it won’t matter to me”, remember folks, virtually all commercial pilots fly hobby as well.
Hobbyists will get screwed if this goes through as written. And without the hobbyists, the commercial side will wither. The majority of commercial pilots I know started as r/c hobbyists. I didn’t, and trust me, if you value the hard work you put into your model airplane, don’t let me fly it. However, I now enjoy flying for relaxation and to get some cool photos and video while traveling. It’s just fun.
But if this NPRM passes into final rules as written, forget about heading out to the local park and firing up your Babyhawk or Hubson to fly and do tricks. You won’t qualify for Standard or Limited RID UAS categories, and you’re not at an FRIA. So you’ll be forbidden to fly. Because both of those drones weigh more than 250 grams. Also, forget about flying in your backyard.
And as mentioned, the FRIA criteria is very limiting, and application is only open for 12 months from implementation of the rule. That means it’s very likely that FRIAs will eventually be a thing of the past. And what about new clubs? What if someone succeeds in putting together a new UAS CBO and they want to open up new flying fields? Well, after 12 months, according to the wording in the NPRM, you’re outta luck. You’ll just have to fly in a park or your backyard. Oh wait, you can’t do that either. Never mind.
And while it’s not much at $5 per drone every two years, for those hobbyists with a lot of drones, this just seems like rubbing salt on an open wound. Why not just let them broadcast based on the registration numbers hobbyists already have? The point is to be able to trace the drone back to the owner, and that’s exactly what current Part 48 hobby registration does.
This article is bad news for much of this industry, there is no way around that. If things in this NPRM aren’t addressed, it would be disastrous for this entire industry. But I want to end this article with a bit of optimism and encouragement.
Like many of your reading this, I have several contacts inside the FAA. They’re all great people, and I’ve been talking to a few of them about this. I want to quote one (anonymously of course) to end this article. This will give you a bit of insight into the mind-set of many who work for the FAA. And remember, its common knowledge that much of the language in this NPRM is there to satisfy concerns (some even legitimate) raised by Federal Security Agencies at the beginning of this arduous process. So even though the FAA has their agency name on this, for the most part they are only the messenger. Resist the (figurative) temptation to shoot the messenger.
As my FAA friend said to me, “The thing to remember is that this is only the NPRM. It’s meant to be discussed, debated, debunked, and deboned. Hopefully, it will then develop like the 107 NPRM. Until then, keep up the articles, the discussions, and the action. We’re all in this together.”
I can think of no better way to end this article, “We’re all in this together”.
Drone U Policy Director
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Vic Moss is a commercial photographer with over 30 years experience. He is also a national voice for drone safety and reasonable drone regulation. Vic has worked with numerous cities and states to help craft drone regulations that don’t inhibit safe and responsible drone use. Vic is also a FAASTeam member and one of three UAS specialists in the Denver FSDO Service Area. As a frequent contributor in many UAS forums, Vic keeps tabs on the pulse of all things UAS. Vic’s duties as a co-owner of Drone U include photography instruction, legislative liaison, and Elite pilot instructor. Vic was recently appointed to the FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee Waiver Task Group. You can get in touch with Vic by emailing him at [email protected]
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