Hi all –
Last weekend started with some still-shaking-my-head footage of a drone just above and behind a commercial airliner on final approach into LAS.
Watch the video – you will see that it was edited to imply that the drone was specifically launched to do an intercept – watch carefully and you can see the plane enter frame and the drone pivot on him –a nice move that in a different setting would bring guns to bear.
It’s certainly the best documented “oh s__t” moment we’ve had to date. And there have been a lot of them. 11 recent incidents are cataloged in this article and it is by no means exhaustive. The good news is that nobody died.
But this issue is not about an aviation disaster that didn’t happen.
This issue is about the disaster that is awaiting everyone whose business plan is based on the idea of expanded operations beyond the current Part 107 rule. The premise is simple. Without universal Remote ID, growth will be slow and
Because we are all in this together, this issue of Dronin’ On is called Common Cause. And it is all about how one special interest group is threatening the future of the commercial UAS industry.
The drone ecosystem is extremely fragmented. A less than exhaustive list runs the gamut from aviators to technologists; from the worlds biggest companies to the smallest and everything in between. It includes the DIY/Open Source community, academics, consumers and hobbyists, dronepreneurs, engineers and scientists of all kinds, domestic and offshore developers and manufacturers, investors, lots of lawyers, pilots, retailers, government agencies, regulators, and the media and event companies that help to sell the industry forward.
So it is not surprising that there is a wide range of ideas about what the future looks like…Or an increasing divergence between the interests of the recreational flier and the needs of the commercial drone industry.
For the most part, you, the Dronin’ On reader, is investing in the future based on the assumption that expanded operations will soon be allowed. Most of you see concepts like BVLOS, overflight, autonomous operations, UTM and delivery as the foundation on which you will build the future.
What stands in the way may surprise you. The greatest obstacle we have to overcome is the Section 336 special rule for model aircraft.
Everything hinges on Remote ID.
To give away the punch line, it is literally going to require an act of Congress to rewrite the 336 rule so that the FAA can create and enforce a Remote ID rule that applies to recreational fliers.
If we want the industry to move forward, we are all going to have to get involved. Each of us has two senators and a representative. Each of us also has our state and local government. We need to make our collective voice heard.
Why will they listen? Because there are dollars and votes at stake.
For that we can thank the Teal Group and PwC. Regardless of how over the top their forecasts are, numbers like $82 billion, $91 billion and $123 billion are stuck in an awful lot of minds and documents. All of them are predicated on UAS integration into the NAS. As much as I question their forecasts, there is no doubt that they are attention-getting. Something we can put to good use.
CONNECTING THE DOTS
Let me start by putting some dots down. I am not going to fill this up with links – everything here has already been reported in Dronin’ On and can be found here. The few exceptions are linked. Please feel free to contact me for sources
As part of the FAA Reauthorization Bill, the FAA was charged with integrating sUAS into the NAS and promoting the growth of the industry. Here is the relevant section of the bill. It’s a seminal document.
After extensive lobbying by the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) who is often credited with the drafting, Section 336, “a special rule for model aircraft,” was incorporated into the bill. The gotcha is that the rule states that “The Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft, or an aircraft being developed as a
It is important to keep in mind that at the time there were not a lot of consumer drones out there. The AMA represented the remote control (RC) aircraft modeling community. According to their own figures, their membership had been in a steep decline for a decade (2002-2012).
It is also worth noting that in Section 332 the FAA was instructed to “Fill the immediate need of the Department of Defense— (i) to develop detection techniques for small unmanned aircraft systems.”
Fast forward to 2015. Drones are the Christmas present of the year (again.) Irrationally exuberant consumer sales forecasts for millions of units forced the FAA to act. The concerns were reasonable – most people who were buying drones have no idea about the NAS or the rules of the road.
October the FAA convened the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Registration Task Force ARC and gave them one month to provide input about a consumer drone registration program intended to close the education gap.
- Various participants advised the FAA that a $5 fee would kill the industry.
- The retailers on the ARC, including Amazon and Best Buy, killed the idea of registration at point of sale.
- Others argued for the bare minimum of data to protect the privacy of 14-year-olds.
- Still others argued that the pilot, not the drone should be registered.
December miraculously registration was online for Christmas after the FAA chose to bypass the NPRM process to meet their self-imposed deadline.
When the rule was passed, the AMA advised their members not to comply with the rule, that instead they were seeking a special exemption or accommodation with the FAA on behalf of their members – which never happened. When the handwriting finally dried on the wall a few months later, the AMA reluctantly reversed their position.
April the original FAA overflight rule went to White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) which is the procedural step before the public NPRM comment process. It took until November for the rule to get on the OIRA docket. Over the next 60 days, various Federal agencies – including DHS and the FBI – said that such a bill could not proceed without Remote ID. The result was that the bill was considered dead in January 2017 and never advanced to
July the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 (FESSA) was passed. There were 13 UAS specific items, the first one, SEC. 2202. IDENTIFICATION STANDARDS was to develop and implement a Remote ID recommendation.
March Administrator Huerta announced the formation of the Remote Identification Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) to develop standards for remotely identifying and tracking unmanned aircraft to provide the FAA with ideas about how to address 2202.
There is a solid summary here by DLA Piper:
The ARC was tasked with three objectives:
- Identify, categorize and recommend available and emerging technologies for remote identification and tracking.
- Identify requirements for meeting the security and public safety needs of law enforcement, homeland defense, and national security communities for remote identification and tracking.
- Evaluate the feasibility and affordability of the available technical solutions, and determine how well they address the needs of law enforcement and air traffic control communities.
May the $5 registration rule was struck down by the court (Taylor v Huerta) because it violated the 336 provision written in 2012. (The AMA had nothing to do with the lawsuit.)
June the FAA convened the ARC for the first time including some 70+
The FAA’s instructions to the ARC were to come up with the best possible solution.
Participants were told not to worry about the legislative implications. It was the closest to a blank sheet of paper that the FAA could provide, and I think that it was the right approach.
September the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) hosted DRONE ENABLE, ICAO’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Industry Symposium. They were unable to come to a consensus on a Remote ID protocol. Among other things disagreement between the regulators and the world’s leading drone manufacturer, DJI.
September a drone crashed into a Black Hawk helicopter over Staten Island. As luck would have it, an arm and engine was recovered which included a
October the Remote ID ARC presented their report to the FAA.
December the FAA released the Final Report detailing the ARC’s recommendations to the agency. The recommendations were not unanimously endorsed. A large and influential group dissented because the majority proposal would have exempted a percentage of people flying under the 336 exemption. Their comments are included in the Appendices and have been repeatedly covered in Dronin’ On.
December the NTSB Aviation Incident Final Report was released. Among many findings, the report noted that it was through the DJI database that they were able to identify both the point of sale and the buyer.
In the interview with the NTSB the pilot, who was registered, said that he had no idea of the rules of the road and no idea that he had struck the helicopter. He assumed it had crashed into the Sound and had promptly gone out and bought another, more expensive model.
As of this writing (2/9/18) there has been no indication whether the FAA will bring any action against the pilot.
December the registration rule is reinstated as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.
JanuaryEarl Lawrence, the Executive Director of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Office appears on a Drone Innovation Panel at CES. You can see the panel here. Lawrence made two points relative to
1) (43:30) Begins Lawrence’s discussion of Remote ID. The soundbite is “Everything hinges on Remote ID” – the context being that you cannot have expanded operations without knowing where the aircraft is and who it is.
2) (58:40) In response to a question from the floor, Lawrence made it clear that “In general, you do not have to be a member of a specific organization in order to be operating under their safety guidelines.”
You should know that the AMA constantly misrepresents the need to be a member in order to fly.
February some bozo buzzes a fully loaded passenger jet. It is unlikely that person was either an AMA member or someone flying under Part 107. Or even registered. It is even less likely that he or she will be apprehended.
It is fair to ask if Remote ID would in fact have made a difference…
SO WHATS THE PROBLEM?
Let me make one point here that should send chills down your spine. It is the central point of this issue.
Congress has repeatedly signaled their impatience with what they consider to be the FAA’s foot-dragging in implementing Remote ID. It is safe to assume that Congress is reading the same news we are, and seeing this latest incident over Las Vegas. Let’s not forget that the Reauthorization is coming up in a few weeks and that it will shape the future of our industry.
Let me state the obvious – there is ample precedent for this.
- Every cellphone and computer has a unique IMEI or MAC number.
- Every car has a unique VIN number.
- Every boat has a unique Hull ID.
- Every firearm has a unique serial number.
What there is no precedent for, is operating in the NAS without registration and identification.
There are three closely related issues:
It makes little to no sense to insist on Remote ID without tying the individual drone, the ID and the owner together. That means that if recreational drones are to be equipped with Remote ID, the registration process has to be changed from one owner, many drones to one owner, each drone and transponder.
I believe that the only practical way to do this is at point of sale with an electronic log in before first flight. Please don’t tell me this can’t be done – you can’t launch a DJI product or turn on a cellphone without registering it first…
Beyond the mandatory registration number, multiple identifiers – especially those installed by the manufacturer and recorded in a database – will go a long way to facilitating forensics work when needed. The primary goal will almost always be to find the operator – as well as to determine the launch point and mission profile.
After a lot of hard work by a lot of smart people, the Remote ARC ended without reaching consensus. Even if it had reached consensus and presented a unanimous recommendation, the work product is an advisory report. It is up to the FAA to decide what the technical aspects of Remote ID will be, then write a rule. In fact, if you listen to Mr. Lawrence’s comments at CES, they are using the input from the ARC and are working the problem.
Beyond evaluating the technology options, the Remote ARC spent a considerable amount of time and effort thinking about compliance. One conclusion was that people will be much more inclined to comply if there is a benefit associated
Predictably, the forums are already alive with colorfully phrased objections. Yes, I understand that there is no way to impose anything on homebuilt aircraft. To which I say, it is up to the individual to choose whether or not they are going to comply with the law. I believe that many will.
In the long term, I believe it will come down to the old bird hunters credo that I learned a long time ago in the fields of Idaho. “If it flies, it dies.” The 800 pound gorilla in this room is CUAS. The modern version is “if it doesn’t squawk, it’s coming down.”
Remote ID is the essential first step to tell friend from foe.
According to the FAA’s registration data, which is the only real data we have, almost 90% of all registrations are recreational fliers – about 900,000 – who fly under Part 101 or 336 (the AMA claims 200,000 members). This is a cocktail napkin apples and oranges calculation since commercial drones are individually registered, but a recreational registration is for the person and can include any number of drones.
There is a big question here in my mind which it will probably take a judge to answer. But the consensus opinion of my unattributable advisers is that given the existing 336 language, the FAA cannot currently mandate Remote ID for those 900,000 recreational fliers.
The flip side of the coin is to what extent the US government agencies concerned with drone security – the DHS, DOD and DOJ – will allow expanded operations to go forward without including all drones.
Nothing suggests that the security agencies will accept a 20% solution.
The consensus view and logical conclusion is that the more limited the Remote ID requirement, the more limited expanded operations will be.
Beyond that, there is a much larger issue that needs to be addressed. The FAA needs to rationalize the rule set so that the right to fly bigger, faster, further, faster is based on demonstrated proficiency and not a $75 AMA membership which is currently the case. (Another unique aspect of the 336 carve out.)
Certifications based on demonstrated proficiency are common in aviation, motor vehicles, boats and many other fields.
OUR CALL TO ACTION
So here is the deal. If you want expanded operations of any kind, if your forecasts and business plans depend on it, then the relevant portion of 336 has to be rewritten to permit the FAA to regulate the vast majority of drone operators.
It is very important to recognize that the AMA is the single most effective lobbying force in the drone ecosystem.
They have been at it for a long time, they have a lot of friends in high places and their numbers are growing. As I recently pointed out they basically get free advertising on the FAA registration portal. They are laser focused on maintaining their carve out and the economic benefits it provides their executive team.
The link in ArduPilot with the CES panel was posted by Dronin’ On contributor Frank Mellott (USN RET) It makes it clear that they are hard at work:
The Academy of Model Aeronautics is trying to push language (in the House version) that will establish them as the defacto only CBO – and making it more difficult for FAA to not require CBO membership (at $35 to $75 a year).
This despite the fact that the AMA does not insist on proof of registration. And that they now offer commercial insurance which seems far away from the intent of 336 (1) the aircraft is flown strictly for hobby or recreational use.
As to their impact on safety – we have all been lucky. There is nothing to demonstrate that AMA members are any better or no worse than the community at large. There is certainly no statistically valid data that they can point to that would support such an argument.
But what the AMA thinks is not the question here.
What we, the commercial drone industry want is.
All of us who want this industry to grow have a Common Cause.
We as an industry are going to have to set aside our differences and lobby Congress to change the relevant language. Many of you have the ability to amplify this message through social media, newsletters and other forms of influence. Please rally your readers and customers and write your elected representatives. If you have them, get your lobbyists involved.
The other side of the story must be told – Congress must learn what the commercial UAS industry needs to create the promised billions in economic impact that the government bought into. That gets votes.
I am happy to support you in any way that I can. No one else will do this for us.
TIP OF THE HAT
I thought this issue was done. Then I sat down to watch the Opening Ceremony from PyeongChang. It was a stunning combination of the old and the new. Of legend, dance, lighting of every imaginable kind and fireworks. You can stream it on NBC.
Among the most stunning moments was a pre-recorded insert shot of 1,218 Intel Shooting Stars forming figures in the sky. It’s been fun to watch the shows progress – at 1,218 the designers are now able to realize the potential of working in 3 dimensions. Bravo,
Thanks for reading and for sharing.
Editor and Publisher
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