How to write and file comments on the #FAA #NPRM on #drones “remote ID” #UAS #UAV #Drone

On December 26th, 2019, the FAA released its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking setting standards and requirements for all small UAS/model aircraft/quadcopters flown in the U.S.  The FAA has opened up a 60-day period during which members of the public may file comments about the proposal. We ave until

To learn about the proposal, go  here and click on the proceeding title.

On the next page you can access the NPRM document and supporting documents. You may also click on Comment Now! to submit your own comments. You may also upload a Word document file, if you wish.

Note that the NPRM is 319 pages long and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of pages of supporting documents. This is a very complex rulemaking and the FAA has made it difficult for the general public to understand the details – we do not have teams of lawyers, engineers and other staff to go through all this.

How This Process Works

The Administrative Procedures Act requires that new proposed rules be posted to the public and the public be given an opportunity to comment on those rules. Unfortunately, the law does not require the agencies to listen to that feedback; it only requires collection of the feedback. An agency could, if it wished, accept the public’s comments, ignore them and issue its final rule. In practice, that does not normally happen.

Instead, the agency will first use software to analyze and remove duplicate filings, form letters and so on.

Agency staff will then begin reading the comments and identifying every unique issue. If dozens of people identify the same issues, then this is coalesced into a single issue point.

Once they have collected all of the issues raised, the FAA will proceed to interpret the issues and determine how to modify the proposed rule.

Once this lengthy process is completed, the FAA will issue its final rulemaking. In that document, they will list each of the key issues raised and explain how the resolved or did not resolve the points raised.

Good Comments / Bad Comments

The best comments are those that identify specific issues, explain the problems, provide facts and logic to back up your discussion, and suggest recommended alternatives.

The worst comments are those that rant and whine or which just copy form letters. These comments will be ignored by the FAA.

Do NOT submit comments immediately. Every day, we learn more about the proposal and learn more about critical issues in the NPRM. Take your time to learn about these issues, to understand the ramifications and to formulate fact-based arguments as to why the proposed rule should be implemented differently. Anyone that urges you to file “urgent” comments is naive about how this works (and yes, I am pointing to the AMA which sent out an email blast on January 7th mentioning just 4 points and urging people to file urgently without learning more.)

Do NOT submit comments that are rants and whining. These accomplish nothing and will be ignored.

Do NOT submit comments that are copied from form letters and templates. All government agencies use software to scan the comment files and remove duplicate form letters; they have no interest in reading the same thing over and over again.  In essence, form letters are largely ignored.  Sadly this is the exact path the Academy of Model Aeronautics has taken – this is the path to failure.

Example – here is their template letter   and here is the first bit of text in their sample letter:

I am writing in response to the FAA’s notice of proposed rulemaking on remote identification of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). I am deeply concerned that some elements of the proposal ….

Here is a snapshot of filed comments as of this afternoon – all copied verbatim from the AMA web page:

The AMA is literally damaging this proceeding by encouraging members to file form letters. This is idiocy on display. DO NOT DO THIS.

Updated: A similar problem occurred in 2017 with an NPRM from the FCC (not FAA). Over 23 million comments were filed – most were form letters, barely rewritten templates, and millions appeared to have been submitted by computer “bots” that fabricated fake comments. According to Wired Magazine, the FCC ended up largely ignoring the public comments and instead relied on those filed by law firms, corporations and large organizations. Only 6% appeared to have been unique, individually written comments. Read the full story on that, plus comments from a former FCC Commissioner on how to write effective comments (pretty much the same as what I wrote below) (This paragraph added on January 21, 2020)

Do NOT submit comments saying the FAA has no business requiring Remote ID. The FAA has no choice in this matter. Congress, in Public Law 114-190 required the FAA to implement Remote ID. That law is already passed. The FAA cannot do anything about that – their charter is to   develop a solution through a “consensus of stakeholders”. The FAA does have discretion in how it choose to implement Remote ID, however.  If you file comments to the FAA saying  they have no business implementing remote ID, you are wasting your time and your comments. A number of people on social media have been advocating the “FAA can’t do remote ID” argument, which is pointless.

Do NOT submit comments saying that it may be law, but that doesn’t mean the FAA can enforce it. Oh yes they can. Once it is law, there are only two options to challenge the law: in Court, or by electing a new Congress that  establishes a new law. The hobby community lacks the resources to do either of those.

Do work to understand the proposals. Do follow discussion groups online and on social media. This includes model aviation clubs, groups, quadcopter/FPV enthusiasts on Youtube, Facebook and Reddit. Many groups are analyzing and thinking through strategic responses. I have seen a number of very good points being identified and good arguments emerging.

DO SUBMIT COMMENTS that identify issues, analyze the problems, and propose solutions. Well thought out arguments, facts and logic to help the FAA understand problems – and suggestions to how to solve those problems will get more traction than the short comment that just complains.

EXAMPLE ISSUES

In one part of the NPRM, the FAA says home built model aircraft will be permitted to be flown only at Federally certified airfield sites. At least we can still build model aircraft!

Or may be not!

Elsewhere, the FAA lays out the requirements for Amateur built aircraft – which makes it look like they will allow  people to build their own planes. But read the details: few individuals may qualify for their >50% build requirement. That’s because most home builders design and construct airframes – but under this rule, you might be expected to develop from scratch your own lithium polymer battery chemistry, your own semiconductors and microcontrollers, your own servers, your own motors, your own transmitters and receivers – because if you do not do this you may  not achieve the >50% build requirement.

The FAA seems to be banning future home built model aircraft – and prefer instead to allow only the assembly of certified, pre-manufactured kits. They say on page 174 that they’d like to eventually end their FRIA “reservations” for existing model aircraft to be flown.

A better solution would be for the FAA to mandate a set of core components such as certified transmitter, receiver, controllers with remote ID and certified smart phone app. Then let us build any fuselage we want around those core components. This is the kind of idea you want to put in our comments as a Recommendation for the FAA to create a better solution.

The FAA also bans the future flight of all existing quadcopters and model aircraft. Three years after the rule takes effect only certified model aircraft may be sold, each containing Remote ID technology. All existing aircraft must be trashed, or you have limited options to fly them at one of few Federally approved flying sites. Because the FAA will prohibit the certification of new flying sites 12 months after the rule takes effect, this guarantees that over time, there will gradually be fewer and fewer places to fly (they say this on page 174).

For most of us this means trashing  all of our aircraft and accessories. Some number of aircraft might  have software or other updates available from their manufacturer; however the FAA itself says in the NPRM that most recreational craft will not likely be capable of updates.

The FAA’s own Advisory Committee proposed the idea of an add-on Remote ID transponder to retrofit existing model aircraft. This makes more sense for the environment too – why throw away millions of perfect good small UAS?

FAA Eliminates Most Indoor Flight of Model Aircraft

(YES, REALLY. THE FAA HAS CONFIRMED THIS INTERPRETATION OF THE RULES IN AN EMAIL TO ME. FOR  MORE ON THIS INCLUDING THEIR EMAIL EXPLAINING THIS RESTRICTION PLEASE SEE MY NEWER POST ON THE BAN ON INDOOR FLIGHT OPERATIONS. A drone industry lawyer also confirms this interpretation.)

Here’s an example that is not apparent from just reading the rules – the FAA NPRM eliminates most indoor flights.

  • All future small UAS sold in the U.S. will be required to have remote ID capability.
  • Remote ID capability means  the transmission through a radio beacon or an Internet link of key message elements. These elements include the craft’s or operator’s latitude and longitude.
  • Latitude and longitude is determined from GPS signals.
  • Because remote ID requires GPS, if there are no GPS signal, then the craft is unable to fly and the controller will prevent it from taking off.

Consider what happens if you try to fly your small UAS indoors where there is no GPS signal available.

You can’t fly indoors. The FAA is literally regulating indoor airspace over which it has no legal jurisdiction, and they acknowledge they have no jurisdiction here. One random possibility is to permit the sale of small UAS with a little sticker saying “Indoor flight only”. Hah hah.

This “no GPS = no flight” problem means numerous indoor applications of drones in businesses, warehouses, convention centers, exhibit halls, movie sets, mines and caves are  no longer possible.

Now consider that in your house you are able to get enough GPS signal that your small UAS can take flight. By the FAA’s rules, your indoor aircraft must transmit its location and data linked to the operator of the craft, once per second, to an FAA  REMOTE ID USS Internet  cloud database where it can be accessed by the FAA, national security, law enforcement and private contractors.

The FAA is requiring that you transmit surveillance data from inside your home. This would appear to be a violation of the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and there is no simple solution to this. The 4th Amendment prohibits unreasonable search and seizure and views the home as a sanctuary. If police want to search your home, absent an immediate threat to life, they must obtain a  Court order to do so. 

If you do not see the problem, change the context. Assume the Federal Communications Commission has added a remote ID requirement to televisions.  Every time the TV is turned on, it must send information to the FCC about who is watching and what channel is tuned in. Do you see the 4th Amendment problem now?

Now consider the above from a comment filing perspective. Which of these issues will get the FAA’s attention?

  1. A form letter copied by 50,000 people
  2. 25,000  comments ranting and whining about the proposed rules
  3. A single comment that points out the FAA has eliminated most indoor aircraft flight prohibiting bona fide business applications and recreation use in indoor settings.

This should be obvious. This is what you need to do to file meaningful comments. Find problems. Analyze them and propose solutions.

Academy of Model Aeronautics

The AMA is facing an existential moment. With this NPRM home building appears to fade away and  model aviation means flying manufactured or certified kit aircraft. They have told members to file URGENT comments (wrong) and linking to a form letter (wrong) before most anyone understands the proposal.

Their form letter contains just 4 points to be raised.

If this is the best the AMA can do in a moment like this, then it is hard to see why we should remain members.

I have  decided I will make no further investments in any aircraft – fixed wings or quad copters. I will fly what I have, while we still can. If this rule takes effect in its current form, all my craft will  fill a landfill.

I will then eventually probably purchase a single compliant quadcopter and pay the annual FAA fees (which I think could reach $100 per year) and fly that where I can. But otherwise, I and many others will simply leave model aviation. The AMA had better step up its act or its game over for them.

I am hopeful that many people have identified serious deficiencies in the NPRM – deficiencies that make it impossible to implement as presently crafted.

For another example, it seems the NPRM likely violates the Childrens Online Privacy Protection Act in that it requires recording protected data (geolocation data) of children, while in flight. There is no easy solution to this within the current NPRM concept. I have proposed an alternative, novel way of using simplified broadcast only beacon IDs on recreational craft – and having the automated drone fleets receive and relay data from recreational users, when recreational beacons are received (but stripping out the personally identifiable bits – the FAA still gets the tracking data but not all the kids info). This then only records data in areas where there is sufficient use of the airspace for anyone to care about tracking flights for air traffic management. If flying in remote rural lands where there’s no one else, there’s no need to collect data.

5 thoughts on “How to write and file comments on the #FAA #NPRM on #drones “remote ID” #UAS #UAV #Drone”

  1. It seems as though it is time to build a drone Lobby that will speak up for and protect the interests of thousands of like minded hobbyist. That said a commercial lobby will be just as important for the fair growth of the commercial drone operator. Banning indoor flight in areas where the FAA has no authority seems to be the first place to take the battle.

    1. Correct. Sadly, the AMA appears lost on this battle. Flite Test and some other groups, maybe Rotor Riot, FPV Freedom Coalition, are potential alternatives. Flite Test has over 1.5 million Youtube subscribers, for example. While the AMA via their Youtube.com/modelaircraft Youtube channel has just 26,500.

      The indoor flight issues are not the only flaws in the NPRM. First, beside the obvious that FAA can’t regulate indoor air space, PL 114-190 Sec. 354, prohibits the FAA from regulating any UAS operation inside a mine – that’s Federal law already. But by requiring functioning GPS, they de facto eliminate UAS inside mines – which directly conflicts with existing Federal law.

      There are not only 4th Amendment issues about the government recording the flights you choose to make inside your home, there is another privacy problem that I am working on. The Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act protects the privacy of children by greatly restricting what data can be collected from a child, including geolocation data, without a parent’s permission.

      Even if the service is not specifically targeting children, if a parent discovers their child’s data has been collected, they have a legal right to review that data and to request it be deleted. The Federal government and its contractors are subject to this law and are specifically not exempt.

      The FAA knows they are not exempt. This NPRM requires recording every flight, with personally identifiable information, potentially from children. Even if they ban flights by those under age 13 (or 16), they doesn’t get them off the hook. If a parent finds out their child flew the parent’s UAS, they have a right to request deletion of the data. Obviously, if someone can request deletion of the data, then anyone can request deletion of the data. The entire purpose of the Internet data collection scheme is then questionable.

      I am not a lawyer, my background is engineering of tech products (and one in aviation). My duties include reviewing all issues – and passing these on to a legal team for a perspective. There is some smoke here and where there is smoke, there may be a fire. I have mentioned this to a lawyer who also thinks the COPPA issue is a problem for the NPRM’s data collection. I’ve also heard indirectly, via a third party, that he spoke with a lawyer who read these posts and concurs there are problems with this NPRM.

  2. I’ve been around R/C models all my life in fact I am a 3rd generation flyer and i have always flown at a AMA charted site near my house with no problems from the FAA. All the members of the AMA has a registration card from the headquarters for only certain amount of money per year and I am saying for everybody please DO NOT take away the rights for flying model aircraft.

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