Comments on the Remote ID NPRM as submitted March 1, 2020

My name is Christopher Korody. I have been involved with the commercial drone industry since 2014. Through my company, DroneBusiness.center, I offer market research, strategy and content development. I write and publish a free weekly newsletter, Dronin’ On which focuses on regulation, policy and technology adoption.

I have written three extensive articles about the Remote ID Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (RID or NPRM) and have included them for additional detail and context. I frequently contribute interviews and articles to industry publications and forums, moderate industry panels and serve on the Board of Directors of two tradeshows.

Since 1974 I have been involved in technology marketing. I have helped to launch and promote a wide range of products and services including the Space Shuttle, GPS, personal computing, the Apple Macintosh, networking, the audio CD, fiber optic telephony, 3D computing, the Boeing 777 and 737 NextGen and more recently smart cities, Watson and other software programs. I have also brought a wide variety of domestic and imported automobiles, enthusiast products and luxury goods to market. Along the way, I have won over 150 awards.

It is my professional opinion that the process described in the NPRM will create a prolonged period of uncertainty and instability that will have a negative impact on the sUAS market and my practice. There are six concerns that I chose to comment on.

1) Privacy and the 4th Amendment.

2) Reliance on private investment.

3) Authority to regulate commerce.

4) A plea for common sense.

5) The USS concept.

6) Measuring success.

1) PRIVACY AND THE 4th AMENDMENT.

I have frequently written that while the FAA has done a good job of integrating drones into the NAS, it has done a poor job of integrating the pilots. RPICs who have paid a fee, passed a test and been vetted by TSA are operating under the sanction of the FAA and as long as they are operating in accordance with the rules, they have the right to be protected by local law enforcement.

Unfortunately, there is an ever-increasing number of incidents where licensed Part 107 pilots have been threatened with bodily injury, as well as having their drone and ground equipment destroyed.

COMMENT The NPRM cites no security benefit to revealing the operator’s location to the general public. I don’t think it will give people a warm cozy feeling – the people who are thinking about drones in their vicinity are much more likely to be mad.

As you will know from reading tens of thousands of comments, this act is one of the very few things that the FAA can change that will create a modicum of goodwill for the proposed rule.

Fortunately, it’s an easy win as the ASTM RID standard provides the FAA with the ability to determine which fields are displayed to each type of user.

Moving on, I find it ironic that the FAA eschews any responsibility for privacy, yet chooses to infringe on operator privacy assuming that there will be no consequences.

COMMENT I have any number of concerns about creating a 24/7/365 national surveillance program by integrating all of the RID USS data into a near real-time network. The NPRM does not offer a single data point to justify the need. No threat is identified. This type of continuous surveillance and record-keeping without probable cause is a clear violation of the 4th Amendment.

In 2018 the Supreme Court ruled in Carpenter v. United States that the government couldn’t subpoena geographic data directly from cellphone companies without going through the courts because of that data’s “depth, breadth, and comprehensive reach.” It is a mystery how everyone in the review chain at the FAA, DOT and OIRA missed it (or was shouted down) because RID is very clearly geographic data.

Furthermore, this requirement is inconsistent with the rules governing Class G, VFR flight. Nowhere does the NPRM mention imposing the RID requirement on manned aircraft sharing the low altitude air space.

COMMENT Historians will write that this whole sorry mess came about because of the sel serving advice provided and the poor decisions made around registration in 2015. What is missing in the NPRM is a better registration plan with PII that the security agencies are sure to demand. As well as the linkage between owner and pilot – a huge loophole. The FAA is building a giant surveillance system without fixing the root causes of the problem at the point of sale.

2) RELIANCE ON PRIVATE INVESTMENT.

 Once the rule is published, this becomes a national technology launch. The FAA will be on the hook to make it successful, with the future of the industry hanging in the balance. As the lead agency the FAA will not be able to step back and take the ‘not our thing’ approach that we are all too familiar with.

COMMENT Making aircraft owners, retailers and the rest of the ecosystem aware of the rules, informing and training the law enforcement and public safety communities, and creating awareness of a RID reader app for the general public; then servicing and supporting the apps on an ongoing basis is a massive undertaking that has not been addressed at all. It will be an ongoing expense until it sunsets.

Since no line item was provided in the NPRM, one is left to wonder if the expectation is that the RID USS will bear this burden as a condition of their franchise. Beyond the question of their willingness to undertake this, is the equally important question of their ability to do so.

COMMENT The calculations on the percentage of the current fleet that can be retrofitted is entirely dependent on DJI. Without their ability to “push” an update, the target is not achievable and the costs will rise dramatically.

This is particularly true with the recreational fleet, which judging by the paucity of media coverage, is not even aware of RID. It is further complicated by the fact that an unknown number of drones have never been registered, so contacting the owners to inform them of the need to register and retrofit is impossible without the aid of the manufacturers.

COMMENT Setting aside the matter of what is not included in the budget, we come to the question of front-loading the budget. When I looked at the forecast, my first reaction was that saving the FAA ~US$2.5M over a ten year period at a cost of US$581M was an extraordinarily poor return on investment even for the government.

But what I then realized is that while the FAA expects to spend US$56M over ten years, the remaining US$525M will, for the most part, have to be spent in the first three years to get the program off of the ground.

There is no one in the drone space who has that kind of money to invest. And the numbers and forecasts are not attractive enough to bring that kind of money to the table – especially before the rule is in place and the system is up and running.

The FAA has no way to ‘incent’ people to invest, nor does it offer any assurance that there are enough investment dollars to ‘do the job.’ Which makes it entirely likely that consumers (both Part 107 and recreational fliers) will have a very limited choice of aircraft and USS at the end of Year Two.

COMMENT I think that it would completely change the equation if the FAA were to reconsider the timetable so the cycle of input, determining manufacturer compliance protocols and engaging outside standards groups can be completed before the clock starts.

This is especially true of the “go/no go” software that has to be deeply integrated into every operating system and will require extensive testing by each manufacturer to function properly at some as yet to be prescribed level of reliability.

The entire industry knows this is challenging – all one needs to do is consider the number of problems people have with similar items like DJI geofencing which has been developed over the years by one company for one operating system. Coupled with the challenges of complying with a performance-driven standard, it is easy to argue that many companies will choose not to compete at all.

COMMENT I suggest that the FAA set aside the performance driven concept in favor of a top-down consensus standard for this requirement. Performance standards are a great concept and definitely have their uses, but this is more akin to ‘to a carpenter, the answer to everything looks like a nail.’ By all means, develop the standard in an egalitarian manner, pick the best one after testing, but then bring clarity to the market, level the playing field and shorten the development cycle by eliminating endless rounds of ‘not that rock’.

3) AUTHORITY TO REGULATE COMMERCE.

Nowhere in the NPRM does it describe how the FAA, a civil aviation agency whose “continuing mission is to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world,” has the authority to regulate what products are imported into the country and sold.

Yet on Draft p9 we find:

No UAS could be produced for operation in the United States after two years and no UAS could be operated after three years except in accordance with the requirements of this proposal.

COMMENT The NPRM does not describe a process by which this will be accomplished. We know that UAS are not sold in state-run stores. So, I doubt that retailers and manufacturers will find much comfort in Draft p235

Given the average three-year UAS lifespan, the three-year operational compliance period would likely assist producers in depleting existing non-compliant inventories with reduced impact compared to the proposed one-year compliance period.

Likely’ is nice but people aren’t stupid. Dealers will stop ordering and customers will stop buying well ahead of the cut-off date. With my experience in the retail channel, I immediately think about the existing manufacturer and retailer inventories, inventory in transit, inventory delayed in customs and so forth. It’s not like a faucet where you just turn the water off.

Similarly where you write Draft p155

The FAA requests comments about whether persons should be allowed to produce kits for sale that contain 100 percent of the parts and the instructions for assembly necessary to build a fully functioning UAS without remote identification capability…

COMMENT The FAA has no authority to determine this. The authority is limited to where and when an aircraft made from such a kit can be flown.

COMMENT I recommend that these authorities be made clear. The process to identify and notify every manufacturer and retailer consistent with the Uniform Commercial Code must be defined as part of the rule. 

4) A PLEA FOR COMMON SENSE.

The modeler community – those people who operated for 80 years under 91 – are getting the very short end of the stick. Their anguish at the loss of their hobby is palpable. If there is one group that has demonstrated an excellent safety record over time, and whose culture has been developed to encourage and reinforce desirable safety behaviors, it is the RC modelers. To be very clear, they are not drone pilots – though they may also be drone pilots.

COMMENT There is a great deal of urban myth circulating on the Internet to the effect that the FAA will throw out all duplicate and/or cut and paste comments. I get it. But the AMA is the only well-organized association in the space. You would be remiss if you do not at least count each post. My cursory scans of the comments suggest that the percentage of the total will be overwhelming and as such deserves consideration even if the content is not closely analyzed.

I was very vocal in my support of repealing SEC. 336. In large part, this was because I took exception to the AMA’s attempt to conflate drones with traditional RC aircraft. But there is no equivalent between a person who has been building and flying for decades; and a 13-year-old checking out Casey Neistat on YouTube while he or she waits for the batteries to charge.

COMMENT Many aspects of the proposed rule make it difficult, if not impossible, for a modeler to comply. RC controllers don’t plug into the Internet, a one-of-a-kind labor of love doesn’t have a serial number and restricting the number of fields over time does nothing to solve the problem. Meanwhile, the FAA still hasn’t defined a CBO so who will fight for the FRIAs?

There has never, not once, ever been a discussion of an RC model as a security threat. The bad guys did not fly RC models to drop bombs or do recon over Mosul. They flew COTS sUAS or nasty foam homebrew jobs that don’t need RID for a one-way delivery.

COMMENT The NPRM does not account for the cost of basically grounding the entire model fleet – representing countless man-hours, and a large sum of money. I think this is a better example of a ‘taking’ than Causby’s chickens.

I recommend that the FAA separate RC model aircraft from sUAS to more accurately and fairly reflect the diversity of the low altitude community. As the FAA has yet to publish the definition of a CBO there is an excellent opportunity to make this distinction.

5) THE USS CONCEPT.

On Draft p165 you write

The FAA does not propose to require a Remote ID USS be universally compatible with all UAS. That said, the FAA anticipates that some UAS manufacturers will also be Remote ID USS. In those cases, the Remote ID USS may choose to only connect to UAS made by the same manufacturer. This model is similar to how mobile telephone networks sell devices that can only be used on their networks. The FAA requests comment on whether manufacturers should be permitted to produce UAS that are only compatible with a particular Remote ID USS.

COMMENT There is a significant difference between RID and a cellphone service. Individuals are mandated by law to use RID. Therefore, it falls on the regulator to ensure that a means of compliance is available to every licensed, registered operator. The model the FAA needs to be considering is more like a public utility with the FAA as the regulator.

Now let’s take a minute to deconstruct this paragraph.

COMMENT The global trend in the UAS regulation is to create a harmonized international system very much like the one that the FAA pioneered for manned aviation. So that a pilot can talk to any tower, land at any airport and find any gate. Basic stuff that keeps the railroad running on time. This is why the ASTM RID standard was developed to meet the needs of the entire ICAO community.

The growth of the UAS industry is highly dependent on such standards which are the essential foundation for FAA sUAS and UAS certification, waivers, etc. going forward. I know this because FAA spokespeople tell us this all the time.

COMMENT Every RID USS must be required to provide the same standard service to any compliant aircraft. Let the competition between them be about price and added value that benefits the end-user. This is exactly the way that the rest of the software industry works. And what the FAA should be promoting instead of advocating for special interests.

So to wonder, much less suggest that the FAA will not require interoperability between all RID USS and all RID equipped aircraft is counter-intuitive. I understand that lots of potential RID USS have been in to bend your ear.

But what about the operators that the FAA and the USS are here to serve? The FAA is mandating the use of this service. If there is to be any expectation of compliance, the FAA cannot let this turn into a Wild West show where every USS does what they want and charges what they want.

COMMENT Given the hue and cry from the security agencies and their apparent influence on this NPRM, I think that the FAA needs to revisit the idea of allowing any off-shore manufacturer to be a RID USS. If RID is being promulgated at enormous expense and inconvenience on the grounds of national security, then letting any foreign company have the keys sends a very mixed message.

COMMENT Given the very real security challenges that having multiple suppliers poses, the fewer the better. 31 are many too many, especially when many of them are SMBs.

COMMENT Considering everything that will be required, what company will choose to provide a free or even reasonably priced service? I recommend that you make every RID USS provide a free, ‘Lite’ service, limited to a certain number of uses per month. This will greatly aid compliance in the recreational community and the remnants of the RC community.

Draft p252 raises another issue

“…The FAA will not provide payment for the development or operation of Remote ID USS products or services. The FAA anticipates that the Remote ID USS would recoup the costs of providing services either through the sale of subscriptions for remote identification services, on-line advertising, or “value-added” services that can be purchased from the service provider. The FAA requests comments on alternatives for remote identification services that would minimize cost to small entities.”

COMMENT What is important is that the USS not be allowed to sell data without a full disclosure. I understand that most people don’t read their EULA’s, but this store is not the FAA’s to give away. This is about privacy – a topic that the FAA steadfastly shows little interest in, apparently it will be up to the courts to remind you of your obligations.

And once again, because the government is mandating the use of this service, the model is much more public utility then DirecTV.

Finally, there is the issue of compliance.

COMMENT Make Remote ID a condition of getting a LAANC authorization. If you follow that logic then it would make sense to try to get the active LAANC suppliers to also become RID suppliers.

6) MEASURING SUCCESS.

Let’s start by asking a very basic question. The one thing that no one else has discussed.

COMMENT The FAA is a ‘data driven’ organization. Why aren’t there any metrics?

I have been around Fortune 500 companies for my entire career. I have never seen a half-billion dollar program that had no KPIs or metrics that can be used to manage or judge the success of the program as well as the team charged with executing the program. Sometimes called accountability. Maybe it’s because the whole house of cards is built on other people’s money?

Simply making it impossible (or more difficult) to buy non-compliant aircraft does not solve the problem. Nor does saying it is illegal to fly non-compliant aircraft – there are plenty of them flying right now – e.g. all the unregistered drones.

The FAA is familiar with the concept of MOPS or minimum operational performance standard. A MOPS “…Includes all components and units necessary for the system to properly perform its intended function(s).”

COMMENT Let me gently turn MOPS on its ear and ask the FAA to tell the community what the minimum operational compliance standard (MOCS) is that will justify spending what will turn out to be at least a billion dollars, throwing the industry into a tailspin for years, effectively grounding the current sUAS and RC fleets, satisfy the security agencies and actually accomplish something?

And most importantly, what is the MOCS that must be achieved before the FAA will move forward with rulemaking? The timetable in the NPRM suggests that RID will not be implemented until the 37th month. The FAA needs to relate this to the OOP and Night Ops rules, to Part 135 and to the current waiver process.

COMMENT I recommend that the FAA be much more transparent about how this will evolve over the next four years. What are the milestones and the checkpoints? Put a face on the program who is accountable.

Thank you for your consideration. Please feel free to contact me. I am interested in making this work.

Christopher Korody
Principal, DroneBusiness.center
Editor and Publisher, Dronin’ On
575-758-7836
chris@dronebusiness.center