#FAA confirms that #RemoteID #NPRM Eliminates Most Indoor Flight #UAS #UAV #modelaircraft #Quadcopters

(Posted originally mid day on January 10th. Received feedback on social media and made several important edits late on the 10th. Then, made additional minor edits  January 12th to clarify some items, based on additional feedback. Notably have changed “ban”/”banned” to “eliminates” as a more accurate description of what happens to indoor flight when no commercially made, non-complaint aircraft are available. IF you read this before January 12th, there are important changes and clarifications.

As of January 14th, an FAA official acknowledges the FAA cannot regulate indoor airspace – but has not provided a specific solution to the restrictions imposed by only permitting the sale of compliant  aircraft that require GPS to fly.)

The FAA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking concerning standards for use of Remote Identification on small unmanned aircraft has the side effect of eliminating [4]  nearly all indoor flight of compliant, commercially made and sold model aircraft (greater than 0.55 pounds).

This is because compliant aircraft cannot fly unless they have a GPS signal and most indoor locations will lack a GPS signal.

In an email to me on January 9th, the FAA’s Office of Rulemaking confirmed this is the case. On the 14th, an FAA official acknowledges they cannot regulate indoor airspace but has not offered a solution to the “can’t fly if no GPS signal” issue for all commercially built and sold small UAS.

How this occurs

  • The NPRM requires only certified remote ID capable craft are sold in the U.S. 2 years after the rule takes effect[1]. All new small UAS must have Remote ID.
  • Remote ID requires periodic transmission of the craft and/or operator’s latitude and longitude.
  • The latitude and longitude are obtained from GPS signals.
  • If no GPS signal is presence,  the Remote ID system automatically prevents the small UAS from taking flight.
  • Since GPS is not available in most indoor areas, this eliminates the operation of commercially made small model aircraft inside most buildings. This includes private homes, garages, shops, businesses,  warehouses, manufacturing plants, convention centers, exhibit halls, mines and caves and other interior locations.
  • The FAA intends to restrict the manufacturing and sale of small UAS to certified, compliant aircraft only, meaning Remote ID and GPS functional.  On page 16 of the NPRM, the FAA writes: “The FAA envisions that upon full implementation of this rule, no unmanned aircraft weighing more than 0.55 pounds will be commercially available that is not either a standard remote identification UAS or a limited remote identification UAS.” [2]
  • Only compliant aircraft could be sold as new, 2 years after the rule takes effect.
  • The FAA is indirectly regulating the use of indoor airspace by prohibiting the sale of non-compliant aircraft that could function indoors[3].The FAA has no legal jurisdiction to regulate indoor airspace and they have acknowledged this.
  • (January 14th update) On page 8 of the NPRM, the FAA writes“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.”The bold face text implies the FAA will permit the sale of small UAS that have a label on the side saying “For indoor flight only”. And this will prevent their outdoor use, how?Essentially, we are back to a conventional regulatory system that is based on trust and enforcement, rather than software mandated control.

A method to obtain reliable, tamper proof latitude and longitude without  GPS and inside buildings has not been identified, and if such technology exists, could it work on small UAS?

Problem Summary

  • The FAA intends that only certified, compliant commercially built may be sold in the US.
  • Compliant UAS require functioning GPS to fly; if no GPS,  they cannot fly, which means any commercially sold small UAS will not fly in most indoor locations.
  • The FAA acknowledges it cannot regulate indoor airspace but has not resolved the conflict between the rules that prohibit sale of non-compliant small UAS and the lack of GPS signal indoors which de facto regulates access to indoor airspace.
  • The note on page 8 implies someone may sell a craft with a “For indoor use only” sticker on the side, which largely defeats the purpose of most of the NPRM requiring remote ID on all outdoor flights. Surely, no one will ever fly a drone with a “For indoor use only” sticker outside?

Please read the email from the FAA Office of Rulemaking below. If you read this before January 12th, or the 14th, and are revisiting, please see footnotes [1] through [5] to understand what changed since this was originally posted.

(Late on January 10th, I moved the discussion of 14 CFR 1.1 definitions to the end. On social media, some people were not understanding this issue, missed the point of the reference, and vented much emotions on things that do not lead to improving the NPRM. I expanded the section, at  the end, to clarify why words matter and how regulations can say X but end up regulating Y, unintentionally.)

In the event that your small UAS is able to obtain a GPS signal inside your home, then it can take flight. However, under the NPRM it will be required (in most cases of both Limited Remote ID and Standard Remote ID) to transmit its operational status including location and information that can be linked to the operation, in real time, once per second, to an FAA authorized Internet database. This database will be accessible to the FAA, law enforcement, homeland security and third party contractors.

There are potential 4th Amendment issues with this in-home tracking but the main point of this post is that the NPRM eliminates many indoor flight scenarios.  To avoid distraction , the  6 sentences on the 4th Amendment topic have been removed (on January 12th).

Suppose the FAA permits “For indoor use only” stickers on small UAS?

That supposes we can define “indoor” flight and “outdoor” flight but that is not as simple as it seems.

Is a covered equestrian arena without walls, at the fairgrounds, indoor or outdoor? Feels outdoor. How about my 1,000 sq ft garage/shop with the big doors open? Kinda feels outdoors if the arena is considered outdoors. What about my house in the summer with sliding glass doors wide open? Feels like indoors but it is no different than that shop which feels like outdoors.

Even if “indoors” with doors open, like the shop, is considered outdoors, the likelihood of enforcement is zero, of course.

Recommendations

This is for all of us to think about. What should we recommend to the FAA in our comments as to how to resolve this dilemma?

The FAA was tasked by Congress with defining Remote ID standards and then to issue “regulations and guidance” regarding remote ID based on a consensus of stakeholders. The FAA does not have a choice regarding remote ID – a Congressional law says they have to define it and craft rules around its use. The FAA does have discretion in determining the technical details of remote ID, and when and where it should be applied.

For your comments to the NPRM, discuss and analyze these issues and offer recommended alternatives.

Arguing that there should be no remote ID at all is a non-starter – that law was already passed by Congress and signed by the President. The only way the  law is changed is if  the hobby community elects a new Congress to pass a new law or challenges the law in Court. I do not think the hobbyist community has the resources to do either of those.

Therefore, our realistic options are to identify bona fide problems in the NPRM, such as the above, and ideally propose alternative solutions, hopefully simpler and less  complex than what the FAA has proposed.

Recommended Solution

(Updated January 15th) My preferred alternative is to have a “no GPS, flight okay” configuration setting for the small UAS. When flying indoors, set this to allow “no GPS” operations. Of course a user could falsely select this option and fly outdoors.  However, the small UAS would continue to  transmit its Remote ID including operator information so that the drone could be identified, if needed. In fact, if GPS signals become available during the flight, it could resume transmitting the GPS location information although that does not resolve the separate problems of COPPA (see other post).

Another solution is the real world: You will be able to easily find non-compliant small UAS for sale on Amazon, EBay, Alibaba and a lot of other vendors. Today there is a lot of stuff sold in online market places that range from counterfeit to not approved by government agencies (such as FCC “type certified” 2-way radios that are not certified). Thus, the market solves this problem in spite of, not because of, the FAA. That this occurs largely renders much of the NPRM requirements as ineffective.

Text of the FAA Office of Rulemaking Email Statement

Here is text of the email I received from the FAA .  I originally only posted the key parts but others thought there must be much more (there isn’t). I have now posted the entire text of the email.

RE: Question on remote ID NPRM and indoor flight

9-AVS-UASRemoteID (FAA) <UASRemoteID@faa.gov>

To: Edward Mitchell

Mr. Mitchell,

Thank you for your questions regarding the proposed rule for UAS remote identification.

  1. UAS that are “standard remote identification UAS” would transmit (through the internet) and broadcast (through an RF signal from the aircraft) the lat/long position of both the unmanned aircraft (UA) and the control station (CS). UAS that are “limited remote identification UAS” would transmit (through the internet) the lat/long position of the CS only. UAS without remote identification could be operated at certain flying sites recognized by the FAA.

2. There are certain situations when the UA would be prevented from taking off, and these depend on whether the UAS is standard or limited.

a. For standard UAS, if the UA is being operated in an area where the internet is not available (rural area, for example), then it can still take-off if it is broadcasting. In order to take-off, the UAS must be transmitting (when internet is available) & broadcasting (all times) the full set of RID messages (including UA & CS lat/long).

IMPORTANT: In both of these situations, for take-off, the messages MUST include the lat/long, so if the UAS derives lat/long through GPS, it must have a GPS position available. If the UA is in a location where GPS is not available and it cannot generate a GPS position, it could not take-off, because it would not be transmitting or broadcasting the FULL message set.

IMPORTANT: If GPS is available at take-off, but the UA loses GPS after take-off, our proposal is that the loss of GPS would be indicated to the pilot and the pilot would have to land as soon as practicable since the UAS is not sending the FULL message set any longer. The UA would not be forced to autoland in any situation. It’s the pilot’s responsibility to land at this point.

IMPORTANT: for operations of a standard or limited UAS indoors where GPS is not available, if the UA is designed to use GPS as the lat/long position source, it would not be able to take off. Our rule has a provision for manufacturers to seek relief from the RID requirement when the UA is being manufactured and operated or “aeronautical research” purposes. So, if a manufacturer is building a prototype UAS for use ONLY in demonstrations indoors, the FAA could issue an authorization for the UAS to be manufactured and operated without RID, which would allow it to operate indoors.

b. For limited UAS, the same conditions apply except that, when the internet is not available, it would not take-off. Limited UAS are FULLY dependent on an internet connection, whereas standard UAS use an internet connection when it’s available, but the broadcast feature allows standard UAS to operate when/where the internet is not available as well.

3. You are correct. If GPS is not available to a standard or limited UAS that uses GPS as the lat/long position source, it would not take off because it could not generate the RID message.

4. UA that weigh under 0.55 pounds which are not required to be registered are excluded from the RID requirement. I’ll assume you are referring to “small” UAS that weigh over 0.55 pounds. As I stated in response #2, you are correct. If the UAS was manufactured with FULLY COMPLIANT standard or limited Remote ID, and the lat/long position is GPS derived, the UA would not take off if GPS is unavailable. As I stated in #2, manufacturers could seek an authorization to produce a “demonstration” model without RID for indoor use only. An authorization is not guaranteed, and would likely come with restrictions that ensure the UA is only operated for the requested purpose.

I hope your questions have been answered. Please provide any comments or suggestions you have to the docket. The best comments are those that include a rationale and, if appropriate, suggestions for alternative policy with supporting data or analysis.

Thank you,

FAA Office of Rulemaking

This was in response to the following questions I sent to them via email on January  8th.

I am rephrasing my email as a series of questions to understand interpretation of the NPRM rules as if they were in effect now in order to make relevant comments in the public filing:

  1. Remote ID requires the transmission of latitude/longitude position information? Yes or No.
  2. If latitude/longitude information is not available to the small UAS, then the device may not take off for flight? Yes or No
  3. If latitude/longitude information is not available, such as no GPS signals available indoors, then the device may not take off? Yes or No
  4. This would have the effect of preventing indoor flights of certified small UAS? Yes or No

I have read the NPRM and am not seeing a practical, workable resolution to this problem.

(Note – my initial email was not clear that I was asking questions to interpret the NPRM. Thus, they initially replied with the form letter response on how to file comments on the NPRM).

14 CFR 1.1 Issue Update

Until the definitions of aircraft and unmanned aircraft are changed in 14 CFR 1.1, the NPRM’s requirements appear to inadvertently ban the hand launch of  large paper airplanes and balsa wood gliders indoors and outdoors (>0.55 pounds) except at certified FRIA sites.  The FAA  alludes to this in a footnote. Of course they would not enforce this and the FAA has acknowledged the wording problem and plans to fix it. Please do not vent or waste your time and emotions on this topic. That is not the point of this item.

To emphasize – no one believes the FAA intends to regulate paper airplanes.  But this humorous item illustrates how the wording of regulations can have unintended consequences.

The FAA’s rules, as described above, also have the consequence of banning most indoor flight by small UAS over 0.55 pounds. No where does the NPRM state “indoor flight is banned”. But it is a consequence of the rules they have crafted and per the email above, the FAA acknowledges this themselves. No where do they say “hand launched paper airplanes are banned” – instead, this falls out from the definitions of “aircraft” (which does include paper airplanes) and the requirement for remote ID on anything over 0.55 pounds (or all drones including <0.55 pounds when operated under Part 107).

The paper airplane issue is a funny one and this example is solely to illustrate why words matter in regulations – again, no one believes the FAA will prohibit paper airplanes – and the FAA ‘s own NPRM says they will fix the wording problem.

14 CFR 1.1 defines a small UA as:

  • “Small unmanned aircraft means an unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds on takeoff, including everything that is on board or otherwise attached to the aircraft.
  • “Unmanned aircraft means an aircraft operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft. “
  • “Aircraft means a device that is used or intended to be used for flight in the air.”

A paper airplane is a device used or intended to be used for flight in the air. It is operated as an unmanned aircraft without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft. A balsa wood model airplane is similarly defined as a small UA. Such craft, if weighing more than 0.55 pounds fall under the Remote ID requirement.

The FAA itself, in an NPRM footnote, indicates it will fix this problem by adding a new definition in  14 CFR 1.1  for “small unmanned aircraft system” (adding “system”) to distinguish between unmanned aircraft and unmanned aircraft systems. This is specified in an NPRM footnote in order to distinguish between small UA and small UAS.

Remote ID will be required for small unmanned aircraft systems,  not small UA . Small UAS include aircraft with control systems while small UA includes aircraft without control systems.

In this way, this problem is fixed.

The FAA recognizes this issue and intends to fix it by adding a new definition of small UAS in 14 CFR 1.1, as they specify in the footnote.

My notes did not record the page number of the footnote and I do not have time at the moment to re-read the NPRM and find it.

FAA  Regulates Airspace from the Ground Up

I have seen discussion online insisting that the FAA does not or cannot regulate low level flights in your backyard. The FAA disagrees with those that say this and on their own web site the FAA states they regulate all air space from “the ground up”.

The Air Up There: Airspace Matters.

When you fly your drone, the airspace you are flying in is regulated by the FAA from the ground up.

https://www.faa.gov/uas/resources/webinars/archive/

“Myth #1: The FAA doesn’t control airspace below 400 feet

Fact—The FAA is responsible for the safety of U.S. airspace from the ground up. This misperception may originate with the idea that manned aircraft generally must stay at least 500 feet above the ground.”

https://www.faa.gov/news/updates/?newsId=76240

Statement on the Federal Aviation Adminstration’s s Youtube channel

“When you fly your drone, the airspace you are flying in is regulated by the FAA from the ground up.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sK6KP2zKPXg

The FAA itself claims it can regulate the airspace beneath your head while you are standing in your back yard.

Some on social media are insisting that:

  1. the FAA cannot regulate the manufacturing of drones (in fact, they can – UAS are legally defined as aircraft and the FAA is authorized and does regulate the manufacture of aircraft)
  2. the FAA cannot regulate the air in your backyard (but the FAA says it can, see above)
  3. the FAA cannot regulate indoor airspace. This is absolutely true, not legally but their NPRM does it indirectly by, in their own words, saying all commercially available small UAS must have compliant Remote ID. That leaves only home made craft and older pre-NPRM craft as usable indoors. Many businesses will want to purchase commercially made craft for their needs but the FAA believes no such commercially available craft will be sold.
  4. the FAA cannot and has no authority to require Remote ID. Congress passed and the President signed PL 114-190 Sec 2002 (a) directs the FAA to develop a remote ID system, and (d) directs the FAA to issue regulations based on the remote ID system it develops. That’s already Federal law. The FAA can’t change it. But it has discretion in how it implements remote ID and that is what we can influence.

You can vent all you want about this as being regulatory overreach but until this is successfully challenged in Court, or Congress passes new laws to stop the FAA, the FAA’s rules (or eventual proposed rules) are in effect and they can and will enforce these rules.

The hobbyist community does not likely have the resources to  challenge the FAA in Court or to elect a new Congress. Until either tells the FAA to back off, the FAA will do what it wants. Scream, shout and waste your time venting on social media – none of that will make any difference.

If you actually want to make a real difference, then learn how to properly file comments – and create arguments and recommendations that might change the FAA’s approach to remote ID.

Footnotes

[1] I corrected this section. It previously said all UAS sold  3 years after the rule is enacted – but its actually 2 years. Existing UAS would be allowed to fly up to 3 years after the rule is enacted, but only new  Remote ID compliant aircraft could only be sold starting 2 years after the rule is in effect.

I also added a sentence that even UAS  <0.55 pounds must have Remote ID if flown under Part 107 “for business” rules. This means all small UAS business applications require remote ID, regardless of weight.  Part 107 operations have never had a <0.55 pound exemption.

However, the FAA cannot enforce that a Part 107 operator use a Remote ID compliant drone indoors – or the FAA would then be literally regulating the airspace inside. The problem, however, is  per the quote, below from the NPRM, it seems unlikely that businesses could purchase a drone >0.55 pounds for use indoors.

[2] I added the text “The FAA envisions that upon full implementation of this rule, no unmanned aircraft weighing more than 0.55 pounds will be commercially available that is not either a standard remote identification UAS or a limited remote identification UAS.”  to answer comments on social media that say the FAA cannot regulate the manufacture/sale of small UAS.

They can regulate the manufacture of small UAS just as they regulate the manufacture of larger aircraft. I have no idea if they can prevent the sale of anything but in their own words they expect all commercially made craft to be Remote ID compliant.

[3] Another point raised on social media is that overseas manufacturers will, in fact, put non compliant drones up for sale on Amazon, EBay, Alibaba and numerous other online vendors. Non compliant craft will be readily available although not legal per the FAA’s expectation. This  defeats the mandatory requirements specified for all “legal” drones.

[4] I changed the word “banning” to “eliminating” as  the NPRM does not specifically use the words “ban” or “banned”, even though the rules have the effect of eliminating most indoor flight operations  by eliminating the sale of non-compliant small  UAS 2 years after enactment of the rules.

[5] On January 14th, added text from NPRM page 8 which implies the FAA might permit the sale of drones marked “For indoor use only” even though such craft will, of course, be flown outdoors too.

6 thoughts on “#FAA confirms that #RemoteID #NPRM Eliminates Most Indoor Flight #UAS #UAV #modelaircraft #Quadcopters”

  1. Great work, very well explained.

    I am a strong believer in the KISS (keep it simple stupid) system.
    What the FAA is trying to do is very complex…. and should be really stream lined. There still too many moving parts.

    Remote ID is here to stay.

    While drone delivery (simple) will come and go as to it is very to costly to operate overtime. THe mighty $$$$ will fix that quick.

    Where delivery will might be used is in emergencies or VERY high light value objects like medical …..

    THe biggest challenge I see here is stopping innovation to get into aviation as it getting really restricted right from the start.

    1. The NPRM is a super mess. Way to complex, and unnecessarily so. I just updated my post to note that on page 8, the NPRM says the rules only apply to small UAS “operating in the airspace” of the U.S., and a confirmation from the FAA that they do not regulate indoor airspace. The problem remains – they authorize the sale only of compliant aircraft which require GPS – no GPS, no fly. Most indoor locations lack GPS, so they end up de facto restricting indoor flight. The FAA has not yet offered a solution.

      The note on page 8, though, hints the FAA would allow the sale of small UAS that have a “For indoor use only” sticker on the side -hence, not for use in the airspace of the United States. Surely, no one would ever fly such craft outdoors?

      The only solution I see is the simple broadcast beacon ID that is cheap. Intel has demonstrated a cheap system based on Bluetooth 5, with reception 1 km away on a smart phone. If someone wants longer range, they can use high gain antennas on the receiver side. You should be able to attach a beacon ID unit to any existing small UAS.

      Second, they need to allow disabling remote ID when flying indoors. Gets rid of the GPS problem. Also gets rid of the COPPA mess that prohibits the FAA from logging flights made by children.

      This gets back to a system like any other regulation – its based on trust and enforcement – not a software mandated system that controls your flights for you. It doesn’t violate the 4th Amendment or COPPA. It would enable indoor flights and avoid the silly “For indoor use only” sticker concept.

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