Privacy. Privacy. Privacy. There has been a lot of talk about the FAA’s proposed NPRM and its potential impact on the drone industry ad the hobby as a whole. As a rule, it’s a mess, but it is the government. If I opened up a new regulation change, and it made complete sense, I’d be concerned. And I have a degree in political science.
Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way. There needs to be solid federal guidance on drones for both commercial users and hobbyists. The faster it happens, the quicker we can open the skies up and enjoy what we love to do. The NPRM in its current form is a dumpster fire.
FAA Drone Remote ID Rule
Here’s how it breaks down for the pilot.
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.
All UAS operating in the airspace of the United States, with very few exceptions, would be subject to the requirements of this rule. All UAS operators would be required to comply regardless of whether they conduct recreational or commercial operations, except those flying UAS that are not otherwise required to be registered under the FAA’s existing rules.
All UAS produced for operation in the airspace of the United States would have to comply with the design and production requirements established in this proposal with exceptions for amateur-built UAS, UAS of the United States government, and unmanned aircraft that weigh less than 0.55 pounds.
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.
This proposal envisions that within three years of the effective date of this rule, all UAS operating in the airspace of the United States will be compliant with the remote identification requirements. 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.
The FAA was kind enough to overpay a contractor to make us an image.
Drone Pilots and Privacy
One item I see some in the community losing it over is the transmission of the Remote ID over the internet. Basically, your cellphone. Unless you live in the middle of nowhere, you can get a signal. Unlimited data plans are essentially standard now. I’m not going to light my torch and grab my pitchfork over something I already have.
Where I do have a massive problem is the information required to be transmitted is accessible to anyone with a cellphone. Your name and location will be available to anyone who sees your drone and looks it up. Yep, pitchfork and torch time.
The risk to the pilot in that situation increases exponentially. Drones are targets for theft, and then there are the crazies who threaten pilots every day. The FAA wants to give them a free tool to harass and potentially harm law-abiding citizens? Hell no.
A PSA to the general public. The off-the-shelf camera drone zipping around your neighborhood? Yeah, it’s not spying on you. The focal length on the best consumer-grade zoom-capable drone is 48mm. For comparison, the new iPhone 11 Pro’s zoom lens has a focal length of 52mm.
Grab your phone. Open the camera app. Tap 2x. Nothing special, right? It’s because those are not telephoto focal lengths. Period.
The nutty neighbor who thinks you’re being spied on? Unless the damn thing is hovering at your front door, you’re incompetent. Use common sense. 99.9% of pilots are off to get a shot of the sunset or a cool video. We don’t give a damn if you’re cutting your grass. The 0.1% bad actors? Absolutely call the authorities on them. You’ll have all the support in the world from the drone enthusiast community.
The FAA and 400 Feet
If you cannot transmit via the internet, you are restricted to operating within 400 feet of the controller. Does anyone want to explain the FAA’s fascination with the number 400? Who decides that? I expect this one to get waivered away as it makes remote commercial use impossible. Or just strike it from the proposed rule. It is weirdly arbitrary and makes no sense from a safety standpoint.
Comment on the Rule
The rule opens up for public comments tomorrow and lasts for sixty days. Please comment on what you agree with. What you don’t agree with. Whatever your stance is. Please engage. This is our hobby or our business. Do not sit on the sidelines when you can participate in the process.
For me? If politics is about the economy, stupid, then the NPRM is all about privacy. In no way shape or form should my personal identification or location be revealed to anyone but law enforcement. That’s a non-starter for me. The FAA needs to recognize pilots have every right to conduct flights without fear for their own personal safety and free from harassment.