FAA NPRM Summary of key points and recommendations, in my comments

Updated on February 12, 2020.

Summary of Key Points and Recommendations

The NPRM eliminates most indoor flights of small UAS

The NPRM envisions that only Remote ID compliant craft will be sold. Remote ID compliant craft are unable to take off if they cannot receive a GPS signal. As a GPS signal is not receivable in most indoor locations, this de facto eliminates indoor flight of small UAS and implies the FAA is regulating the indoor airspace, over which it has no jurisdiction. This indoor flight restriction violates PL 115-254 Sec. 354. Or maybe not – comments on Page 8 and 22 of the NPRM suggest anyone can sell non-compliant drones by adding a “For indoor use only” sticker since the FAA cannot regulate indoor airspace nor the products on the shelf at Walmart. Which makes much of this NPRM moot.

FAA’s Proposed Use of FCC Part 15 Spectrum Will Cause Interference and Crashes

The FAA proposes to use 47 CFR Part 15 of the FCC rules and regulations for transmission of Remote ID broadcast beacon signals and requires that transmitters “must be designed to maximize the range at which the broadcast can be received”. The requirement to “maximize the range” mandates that small UAS transmit at the 4 w ERP level (1 watt spread spectrum, 6 db gain antenna) – from aircraft potentially located hundreds of feet in the air. This is not how Part 15 bands are intended to be used, will cause interference to residential consumer devices, and may lead to receiver desense and loss of flight control signals, causing SUAS to crash, when multiple SUAS are flown in close proximity to each other.

The FAA Envisions Using Wi-Fi in a way that is Not Technically Feasible

The NPRM proposes using Wi-Fi, if available, to log flights with the Remote ID USS, particularly with a presumably lower cost Limited Remote ID system. Small UAS that use a flight control app on the smart phone are communicating with the SUAS craft using Wi-Fi. Currently existing small UAS implement a Wi-Fi Access Point (AP) on the aircraft and the phone connects to this AP. The phone cannot simultaneously connect to a second AP that has Internet access; the phone can connect to only one AP at a time. Thus, Wi-Fi cannot be used to provide a Remote ID USS connection. The NPRM proposes a Limited Remote ID that appears intended for low cost consumer quadcopters that would be controlled via a smart phone flight control app, logging the flight to the Remote ID USS over Wi-Fi. As envisioned, this is not technically feasible. The flight control app would have to log the flight over a smart phone Mobile Data connection. This means the concept of a low cost Limited Remote ID small UAS is unobtainable. The Limited Remote ID should be dropped and replaced with a broadcast beacon Remote ID for Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) and Internet-based Remote ID USS retained only for Beyond Visual Line of Sight operations (BVLOS). Related: Based on my own tests, the addition of a Remote ID USS data logging app, transmitting once per second, may reduce smart phone battery capacity by 10%. When combined with a smart phone-based flight control app, this may drain 40-50% of the battery in 30 minutes of flying.

The NPRM violates the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)

COPPA specifies strict protections regarding the collection of data related to children, including geolocation data and data from “toys and Internet of Things”. An age restriction or permission from a parent or guardian to collect data does not resolve the problem. If a child flew a quad with or without permission, the parent or guardian is legally entitled to contact the data collector and ask to review, delete or suspend future data collection. The NPRM, however requires logged data be retained for at least six months – but COPPA applies to the Federal government – there is no exemption for the FAA. This is a problem for the use of the Internet to log operator information to a Remote ID USS.

The NPRM violates the 4th Amendment

In the event a small UAS (SUAS) can receive a GPS signal indoors, when that SUAS is flown inside a home, it is required to log its activity in the Remote ID USS. The FAA is mandating the installation of a surveillance device inside a home, which lawyers tell me is not permitted by the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Others suggest there may conflicts with the 5th Amendment, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act prohibition on collecting electronic signals of Americans.

Click the “Continued reading” link, here, to continue reading my full Summary of FAA NPRM Remote ID issues. There are a lot!

The NPRM assumes most users have readily available Internet access via cellular service (or Wi-Fi, which is not feasible if low cost is a priority). In many areas of the U.S., cellular service is limited; about half of my state’s land mass has no coverage from my cellular service provider. The NPRM appears to define “Internet is available” in a way that if another provider covers an area that my provider does not cover, then I am required to purchase service from that other provider. Taken to an extreme, one could require contracts with multiple service providers to meet the implied wording of the NPRM, or even mandate the use of expensive satellite-based Internet access. This implied requirement is spurious considering the FAA defines a Standard Remote ID capability to fly with a broadcast beacon Remote ID when no Internet is available, which is an additional argument for a broadcast beacon Remote ID only (for non BVLOS flights).

The NPRM Defines an Aerial Surveillance Network Using Remote ID USS

The NPRM says data sent to and collected by a Remote ID USS is not restricted to the basic message elements of operator and craft identification and location. The FAA specifically suggests a Remote ID USS could also collect “a camera feed or telemetry data”. Some future Remote ID USS vendors have suggested a “free” business model; when the service is “free”, private information is usually for sale. In effect, the NPRM is establishing a baseline for a national, real-time, aerial surveillance network having significant implications for personal privacy, safety, and violations of COPPA.

The NPRM Threatens National Security

In January 2020, the U.S. Department of the Interior grounded all of its foreign made drones over concerns that such drones could hypothetically conduct surveillance and transmit intelligence data over the Internet[1]. The US Army grounded its Chinese-made drones in 2017 over fears of their use for espionage[2]. While the left hand is citing threats to national security of Chinese-made drones, the right hand is simultaneously mandating all drones be connected to the Internet in real time, most of which will be made in China, and logging all kinds of data into Remote ID USS and other databases, for potential espionage use.

Is Privatization of Air Traffic Management Services Permitted?

Remote ID identifies a small UAS and also delivers air traffic management (air traffic control) services. If a Remote ID USS is not operating properly, the small UAS is not authorized to take off. If the Remote ID USS malfunctions during flight, the small UAS shall be landed as soon as possible. This is an air traffic control function. Additionally, the NPRM specifies that Remote ID USS location information collected will be used for air traffic control purposes. The FAA has defined small UAS as identical to “aircraft”. Thus, a function of Remote ID USS is air traffic control. In 2017, Congress considered a law to establish a privatized, third-party run, fee-for-service air traffic control system but did not approve of this concept. If Congress said no to privatizing ATC, under what authority does the FAA set up a privatized ATC for UAS?

Amateur Built Regulations Stifle Innovation

I have met EAA members who built newly designed aircraft, but test flew their designs as scale R/C models. There are several Youtube channels where hobbyists are creating innovative flying craft (for example, check out BPS.space and his “Sprite” electric ducted fan craft, currently test flown in his driveway). This NPRM would isolate testing at remote FRIAs, and eventually ban home designed and constructed aircraft. This NPRM is a threat to U.S. innovation.

Restrictions on Custom Built Model Aircraft Stifle Non-Aeronautical Research and Business

The restrictions imposed by this NPRM end the custom development of small UAS used in non-aeronautical research, such as agriculture, wildlife biology, forestry, geology and other areas. Including filmmaking. Custom built craft would be limited to FRIA sites – which is not the location where field research is undertaken. These small UAS will never be manufactured products – and very few can afford to meet the strict requirements for manufacturing one-off products.

Software-based Enforcement Prevents Using U.S.-Sold Drones Outside the U.S.

The FAA believes it can contain alleged risks by using software to automatically control the operation of all small UAS – moving regulation from a trust and enforcement concept (as is done for all other laws) into enforcement by software. Side effects include the elimination of indoor flight, 4th Amendment and COPPA privacy violations, and that drones sold in the U.S., but operated outside the U.S., will likely not be able to fly due to Internet access limitations and that a Remote ID USS may not be available.  Travelers from the U.S would have to purchase a drone, at their foreign destination, adding to compliance costs. And of course, they would bring those non-complaint drones back into the U.S.

Environmental Assessment Required

FAA Order 1050.1F, Paragraph 1.8 says that “The FAA decision-making process must consider and disclose the potential impacts of a proposed action and its alternatives on the quality of the human environment.” This NPRM eventually suspends the use of potentially millions of existing model aircraft, flight control transmitters and batteries, resulting in the likely short-term trashing of millions of pieces of electronics, with corresponding environmental impacts. This NPRM opens the low altitude skies to automated drone delivery fleets that have impacts on noise and quality of life. I was unable to locate an Environmental Assessment of these proposed rules.

The NPRM Bans Large Paper Airplanes Unless 14 CFR 1.1 is Modified

Through a quirk in the definitions of unmanned aircraft, and the requirements of this NPRM, the FAA bans the flight of hand launched paper airplanes and balsa wood airplanes except at FRIA model fields. While it is doubtful the FAA will enforce such a rule, this is a side effect of the proposed rules. This is fixable by a slight modification to the definitions used in 14 CFR 1.1.

Personal Impacts of this NPRM

As my existing fixed and rotor wing model aircraft would be suspended by this NPRM, I may have to trash perhaps $1,500 worth of aircraft and non-reusable accessories and flight controller transmitters. Because of my long interest in aviation, and because of factors that may limit my access to flying manned aircraft again, I turned to model aviation. But because of uncertainty introduced by this NPRM, I have suspended further investment in R/C model aircraft. Additionally, this NPRM potentially eliminates a popular activity – indoor flight – at our city’s annual Aviation Day event designed to interest youth in STEM subjects. This NPRM seems poised to close our nearly three decades old model airfield due to its proximity to an airport and the FAA’s undefined “sensitive area” criteria for FRIAs.

General Recommendation

Consistent with privacy laws, threats to national security created by this NPRM, the requirement to allow indoor flights of small UAS, and that the FAA’s envisioned use of Wi-Fi for Limited Remote ID is not technically feasible, the FAA should adopt the following instead:

  • Use of Internet-based Remote ID USS for BVLOS only; all others optional.
  • Use a broadcast-based beacon Remote ID for flights within visual range, based on Part 15 communications such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which are readily receivable by smart phone apps, so that anyone can identify basic information. Drop the arbitrary 400-foot range restriction described for Limited Remote ID SUAS (or just drop Limited ID all together).
  • The FAA must adopt a more suitable power level for Part 15 Remote ID than its mandate to “maximize range”. Limit Part 15 Remote ID broadcasts to 100 mw (or +20 dBm) to avoid interference with other Part 15 devices and licensed users, and to avoid causing receiver desense that leads to crashes of SUAS.
  • Use LAANC for authorization of R/C model aircraft flight instead of FRIAs.
  • Accommodate indoor flight by permitting configuration of small UAS for flight without GPS – but still have it broadcast operator/craft serial number Remote ID information.
  • Aircraft flying BVLOS – such as automated drone fleets – could receive broadcast Remote ID from non-Internet connected craft and relay that information into Remote ID USS for the purpose of air traffic management (if desired). If there are no BVLOS drones in the area, this indicates drone traffic is light and that air traffic management services are not needed.
  • Enable the addition of a broadcast based Remote ID module to existing small UAS, so that existing model aircraft do not need to be thrown out. This would be far better for the environment. This would support industry and researcher needs for custom made, one-off drones used in agriculture, wildlife and geology research and other areas.
  • Eliminate the Limited Remote ID Internet-connected concept as its use for low cost small UAS with low-cost Wi-Fi for Remote ID USS logging is infeasible. No one will make Limited Remote ID small UAS and no one will buy them. Replace Limited Remote ID with broadcast-based beacon IDs for VLOS flight.
  • This proposal is similar to the European Union rules for small UAS Remote ID and creates a potential for a harmonized, global Remote ID solution. This means potentially lower costs due to greater production volumes, which leads to increased likelihood of compliance.

This recommendation meets the direction given by Congress, does not eliminate indoor flight, does not require the elimination of the model aviation hobby and the loss of business opportunities, youth STEM programs and innovation. These methods can be implemented at modest cost, increasing the likelihood of compliance, and reducing the environment impact of needlessly grounding (and eventually trashing) millions of existing electronic components.

[1] https://dronedj.com/2020/01/29/interior-department-grounds-drone-fleet-with-new-order-issued-today/

[2] https://www.defenseone.com/technology/2017/08/us-army-just-ordered-soldiers-stop-using-drones-chinas-dji/139999/

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