Hi all –
Was going to let you relax and enjoy the week but thought it important to let you know that the FAA has posted a “Public Inspection Document” version of the Remote ID (RID) NPRM on Thursday 12/27. This is in advance of posting the Remote ID NPRM next week to the Federal Register on 12/31. (Same thing only different.)
This version of the NPRM is a 319 page PDF that weighs in at a healthy 83,000 words with plenty of gotchas. So you are going to need some time with it to take it all in. Much of it reads like a fairy tale, a kind of regulatory Field Of Dreams. Stylistically it takes the P in NPRM literally. It is written as a proposal and everything is ‘proposed‘ – making it easy to forget that the devil is in the details and that this is anything but a done deal.
Besides alerting you to this opportunity to fiddle away the rest of 2019, I wanted to share a few preliminary comments.
I took a fairly obvious approach to the document. I read the Executive Summary for the gestalt, then used the Table of Contents to bore into areas of interest. Pro Tip – download it so you can search it in Acrobat.
There is a boatload of detail, I can’t possibly cover it all – you would hate me. Rest assured that your “yeah buts…” and “what abouts?” are probably covered. This thing took years to write, right. There is even a cost analysis to prove that the program is under some federal minimum.
MOPS AND ME
The big headline is that it will be at least 2024 before full compliance.
That is the time to issue the rule plus three years. (More detail below.) Clearly it could easily be 2025 or worst case 2026. It depends on ‘stuff’ – like how much blowback they get…
Let’s start by asking a very basic question that I have never heard addressed by anyone at the FAA, or for that matter outside the FAA. A question that is not addressed in the NPRM, but that is fundamental to every business I have ever worked in.
Much is made of the fact that the FAA is a ‘data driven’ organization. So why aren’t there any metrics?
Many of you are 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).”
So let me gently turn that idea on it’s ear and ask, what is the minimum operational compliance standard (MOCS) that will justify this exercise, satisfy the security agencies and actually accomplish something?
How many of the 1.5 million drones that the FAA knows about today will have to comply to make this worth the delay?
Is all we are waiting for the 10% ‘gimme’ represented by the commercial industry?
And most importantly, what is the MOCS that must be achieved to get the FAA to move forward with rulemaking?
Here is the master plan from page 7-8:
Full implementation of remote identification relies on three interdependent parts that are being developed concurrently. The first is this proposed rule, which establishes operating requirements for UAS operators and performance—based design and production standards for producers of UAS.
The second is a network of Remote ID UAS Service Suppliers (Remote ID USS) that would collect the identification and location in real-time from in-flight UAS. The Remote ID USS would perform this service under contract with the FAA, based on the same model the FAA currently uses for the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC).
The third part of the remote identification ecosystem is the collection of technical requirements that standards-setting organizations will develop to meet the performance-based design and production requirements in this proposed rule.
As expected, for all intents and purposes, all sUAS will have to comply. If you are on the recreational side of the house, the disappointing piece is that traditional RC aircraft have been conflated into the same category as UAS and are treated the same way.
There are two categories.
This proposal establishes design and production requirements for two categories of remote identification: standard remote identification UAS and limited remote identification UAS.
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.
Under this proposal, the vast majority of UAS would be required to
comply with one of these two categories of remote identification. For those limited exceptions, which include certain amateur-built UAS and UAS manufactured prior to the compliance date, operators flying UAS without remote identification capabilities would be permitted to ﬂy only at certain specific geographic areas established under this rule specifically to accommodate them.
The expectation seems to be that the drone will broadcast while the ground control station will handle the cellular connection. The RPIC is required to be next to the ground control station to facilitate providing his or her location.
The unique identifier, the location (lat lon) and other data are open to whoever chooses to monitor the broadcast. All that will be required is a smartphone and an app. It will update every second.
The document is very open about this since it relies on unlicensed spectrum. And this very much sums up the dilemma.
On the one hand, the alphabets and law enforcement want to be able to use hardware that they already have – no chance they will equip 750,000 sworn officers with a new gizmo to read the squawk. Nor would such a transmitter be easy to retrofit, nor is there spectrum.
WiFi/Bluetooth fits that bill and most everybody has a phone. I do not think that the concern about the network (cellular) connection is the same since there is no way to read it.
To be very clear, that was what the ARC came up with and those were the directions the ASTM team was given. Philip Kenul and Gabriel Cox have done a fabulous job leading the talented ASTM International Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Committee (F38) to develop what will be called Remote Drone ID Standard F3411.
But a technical standard has nothing to do with who uses it or has to use it, what additional data may be provided and who has access to that data. Nor in fact, is F3411 the only standard under consideration in the NPRM (!)
On the other hand (more about this later) RPICs don’t want everybody and their brother to know where they are. A good part of that is based on threats to life and limb. The rest of it I am not so sure about. But whatever the case, it’s a rock and a hard place for the FAA. And in the near term, there is no apparent alternate technology that will do the job.
In the interests of privacy, the NPRM offers the option for a RID USS to create one-time session codes so that a drone flying repeatedly in the same area is harder to track (ha!) The RID USS will still be able to correlate the code to the registration information.
The rule will also specify that the drone is to be programmed by the manufacturer in such a way that it will not lift off without connecting to the network. There are provisions for broadcast only if a network connection is not available.
There is also a requirement that the drone constantly monitors the connection and notify the pilot if it is dropped, at which point the pilot may be required to land as soon as practicable.
After the rule is published (most likely in 2021) there will be a three year implementation period. At the year two mark, all sUAS imported into the US (the FAA says some 85% of the fleet) will have to be equipped with the Remote ID feature. Control over what comes in through the port of entry would seem to be the Department of Commerce’s jurisdiction.
In addition, as we saw proposed in the OOP NPRM, the packaging must be labeled as to whether the drone is standard or limited. By the end of year three, all aircraft will have to be in compliance. Back to the metrics question I posed – that implies that the MOCS is a lofty 100%.
One supposes that people will be told to ground their non-compliant aircraft. I have no idea whether this represents a ‘taking‘ but it’s yet another possible pitfall.
IS THIS FAIR?
The sales pitch (and there are multiple versions woven throughout) checks all the boxes but leaves a big question unanswered:
The remote identification of UAS is necessary to ensure public safety and the safety and efficiency of the airspace of the United States. The remote identification framework would provide UAS-specific data, which could be used in tandem with new technologies and infrastructure to facilitate future, more advanced operational capabilities (such as detect—and—avoid and aircraft—to—aircraft communications that support beyond visual line of sight operations) and to develop the necessary elements for comprehensive UAS traffic management (UTM). Furthermore, remote identification of UAS would provide airspace awareness to the FAA, national security agencies, and law enforcement entities. This information could be used to distinguish compliant airspace users from those potentially posing a safety or security risk.
The big question is what about Part 135? Those are sUAS. There is no aircraft certification process and as far as I know, no Remote ID requirement for them.
There is nothing in this document. Shouldn’t there be a level playing field? What kind of behind the scenes deals were made to allow a few companies to move forward?
What you really get to is either the genius or the schadenfreude of the rule makers. They are hanging up the performance-based standards shingle and saying, we are not going to be prescriptive about how you do this. Instead, it’s your nickel, you can come to us with your alternative technology or methodology and we’ll review it. If we like it, great that might be another way to comply. If not, so sorry, please bring me a different rock.
The all too familiar bad news is that this will end up creating another black hole very much like the waiver process. Assuming that the FAA withholds the details using the same tired argument of protecting individual investment, the industry goes nowhere.
And as much as I hate to point out the obvious, there are reasonable questions about how the FAA would conduct such testing, how transparent such a process would be, how long it would take and how many ways there really are to solve a given problem.
MY TOP THREE ISSUES
Anyone who read the Soaring Twenties issue last week knows that I see public acceptance, regulation and standards as the three factors that will influence the growth of the industry in the coming decade. Those three themes are very much at play here.
The Facebook forums that I track (here and here) are already in full roar about this. It is driving home something I frequently write about, there is no organization that represents the Part 107 pilot community.
The closest is Vic Moss, an independent Colorado based photographer. If you want some context, and perhaps some much-needed empathy read his post from yesterday. This man cares:
How FAA’s New Remote ID Proposal Will Endanger the Drone Pilot’s Safety and End Up Hurting the Drone Industry As a Whole
As I wrote last week, the FAA has done nothing to address integrating drone pilots into the NAS. It may come as surprise to you that many of them are routinely harassed and threatened by both individuals and law enforcement even though they “have been properly qualified to exercise the privileges of remote pilot.”
Let’s also remember that the FAA has no idea who a large number of drone owners even are, because they whiffed at Point of Sale Registration in 2015, and now have once again squarely missed the opportunity to institute it with this rule. Which only benefits the retailers catering to the clueless and careless.
And, at the very least means that some percentage of all of the drones sold between now and the end of the compliance period will not be registered. Now that’s a fine plan given the goal.
Next we get to the issue of privacy.
Beyond law enforcement to identify an airborne drone, the intention of Remote ID is to enable anyone (passer by, pesky neighbor, irate parent) with a smartphone to secure the RID number and flight information so that they can report intrusions, stalking and other violations to the local authorities. (e.g. This weeks mysterious midnight drone swarm over Colorado.)
I looked it up. There are ~18,000 independent police departments in the US. Safe to say, there is no uniform mechanism for dealing with outraged citizens brandishing cellphones and demanding action. It will be up to each local department to decide how and when to respond.
What remains a huge flaw from the perspective of law enforcement is that there is no way to correlate the pilot license and the aircraft registration. Because they are not always one and the same. Especially the nefarious and criminal.
Instead, the benefits statement and non sequitur is:
Remote identification information, when correlated with UAS registry information, would inform law enforcement officers about two essential factors: who registered the UAS , and where the person manipulating the ﬂight controls of a UAS is currently located. This is particularly relevant to a law enforcement officer’s decision on whether use of force would be appropriate.
Seriously? We will have an in-depth commentary on how LE works and what they need in a coming issue.
What is also concerning is that there is nothing here about rolling this out to law enforcement. Not that one would expect a description of tactics in this kind of document, but adoption by law enforcement is the other side of the MOCS equation and an equally important measure of success. Yet the only acknowledgment is on page 117, footnote 66 which reads:
“The FAA anticipates that in the future, third parties may develop mobile phone applications for law enforcement use.”
Remember the old riddle, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it fall?” Similarly, until a complete program is rolled out to local law enforcement does it matter?
Law enforcement is the customer for Remote ID. This is being done to satisfy their concerns. “Anticipates” does not exactly communicate urgency or even any interest in a solution. What is certain is that no one will invest in app development and the marketing roll out until there is an agreed-upon, published standard.
There is also a related problem that some attorneys may well want to argue.
Remote ID has distinct parallels to the use of automatic license plate readers which also continuously collect data. As reported in WaPo:
Privacy advocates don’t oppose the use of the technology during an active investigation, but they say that maintaining a database of license plate locations for months or years provides too much opportunity for abuse by the police. Last month, the ACLU disclosed that the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency was tapping into a vast, national database of police and private license plate readers. Such private databases remain unregulated.
For my part, I don’t see much difference between a record of license plates and a record of “electronic license plates” though the FAA will, of course, regulate them – and the vendor will, of course, secure them per the FAA’s requirements.
Some people I have discussed this with believe that this will be grounds for a suit when the RID rule is published. Make no mistake about it, we are in First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment country.
I would also refer you to Travis Moran’s post, Will the Drone Please Take the Stand. There is no question that these records can and will be subpoenaed.
Finally, let’s get to the FAA’s Achilles Heel – enforcement. Despite being repeatedly chided by both Congress and the DOT Inspector General, the FAA has spent the past four years educating instead of enforcing. I can’t argue the merits because it’s hard to evaluate the results. But what is clear is that the FAA is seen as a toothless tiger with no enforcement ability by a large percentage of the community.
In an NYT article Friday, The F.A.A. Wants to Start Tracking Drones’ Locations:
Jonathan Rupprecht… pointed out that the F.A.A. had rarely prosecuted violations of drone regulations — such as flying in a careless manner or flying an unregistered aircraft — over the last decade.
“They should refrain from biting off more than they can chew.”
As you would expect, the more active UAS practices have already issued preliminary statements, and in some cases done analysis that fortuitously rounds out what I have written. If you want to get a sense of the reaction around the Beltway here are:
Mark McKinnon for Fox Rothschild, “Finally!!!” . . . . FAA Releases UAS Remote ID NPRM
Akin Gump, FAA Announces Proposed Rule on UAS Remote ID
Sarah Baxenberg for Wiley Connect, It’s Finally Here: the FAA Releases Remote ID NPRM
And an early report from Miriam McNabb for DroneLife including an FAA press conference with some additional details, BREAKING NEWS: FAA Announces Proposal – Remote ID for Drones
Commercial Drone Alliance, Small UAV Coalition and AUVSI all issued preliminary press releases as did DJI.
As to what to do with all this… Thousands of characters, bits, bytes and files will be burnt, bent and otherwise mutilated hashtagging this by the end of February.
The FAA has asked for comments on some 40 specific issues. Many of them are pretty granular. They are not asking for comments on the broad strokes.
The FAA invites interested persons to participate in this rulemaking by submitting written comments, data, or views… The most helpful comments reference a specific portion of the proposal, explain the reason for any recommended change, and include supporting data.
That may not be a bad place to start unless you just want to trash the whole thing, which no doubt would be satisfying but would not accomplish anything.
Off we go into the Soaring Twenties.
Hoping that Santa was ridiculously generous and that you start the New Year well. I will be back with more next year.
Thanks for reading and for sharing. Back issues are here.
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