Drone Remote ID Draft Rule Draws 45,000+ Comments

Activists from “Help Save Our Hobby” protest at FAA headquarters on Feb. 29.
Credit: Bill Carey

More than 45,000 respondents have commented on the FAA’s draft regulation for remote identification of drones as of the March 2 deadline.

The public comment period for the so-called “Remote ID” notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) closed as expected with an avalanche of reaction to proposed requirements that are considered onerous by drone hobbyists but tolerable to commercial interests. The FAA released the draft rule on Dec. 31, 2019, giving the public 60 days to respond.

There were 45,468 comments recorded by the regulations.gov website by the evening of the deadline. By way of comparison, the comment period for the FAA’s draft regulation for the commercial use of drones weighing less than 55 lb., now established as Part 107, drew 4,597 responses in 2015.

The Remote ID draft rule describes a framework for identifying small drones and model aircraft in flight by requiring them to transmit a serial number or alphanumeric code as well as positional data to the ground. It would apply both to drones flown for business and recreation.

Under the proposed rule, a “standard” category drone must be capable of connecting to the internet and transmitting data to a Remote ID Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Service Supplier, in addition to broadcasting its identity directly from the aircraft to receiving devices on the ground. 

A “limited” category drone would only be required to connect to the internet, but would be restricted to operating no more than 400 ft. from its control station.

Persons operating drones that are not equipped for standard or limited remote identification, such as amateur-built aircraft, would have to do so within the pilot’s visual line of sight at an FAA-recognized flying field established by a community organization.

In the past, Congress prevented the FAA from regulating drones and model aircraft flown for recreation. But the FAA reauthorization bill that President Donald Trump signed into law in October 2018 repealed that protection and extended remote ID requirements to hobby aircraft—a response to concerns advanced by federal security agencies over the threat posed by drones flown with malicious intent.

Thousands of comments on the Remote ID draft rulemaking are thought to be “copy-and-paste” responses based on templates provided by organizations including the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) and the MultiGP Drone Racing League, which urged their members to weigh in on the NPRM.

Major complaints over the NPRM concern its requirement that standard-category drones be capable of both network and broadcast means of transmitting identity; the cost of a cellular data plan to connect to the internet; the limitation of operating within 400 ft. of a control station; and relegating nonequipped drones to FAA-recognized flying fields.

Sharing information with a UAS Service Supplier on a network also raises privacy issues, critics say.

One of the first major companies to go public with its response was leading small drone manufacturer DJI, based in Shenzhen, China. 

“We strongly support drone Remote ID. But not like this,” DJI’s vice president of policy and legal affairs, Brendan Shulman, wrote in a Jan. 14 blog post. The FAA “has proposed a complex, expensive, and intrusive system that would make it harder to use drones in America,” said Shulman, an avid hobbyist.

The reaction of the commercial drone user, supplier and services community to the NPRM is generally positive, said Lisa Ellman, executive director of the Commercial Drone Alliance (CDA), who was asked about the draft rule Feb. 28 during an American Bar Association event. The nonprofit association represents companies including Apple, AT&T, Alphabet Wing, CNN, Ford, GE AirXOS, NBC Universal, Uber and WarnerMedia.

Ellman related that the CDA filed a dissent to the recommendations of a UAS ID and Tracking aviation rulemaking committee that the FAA formed in 2017, opposing any carve out from Remote ID requirements for model aircraft and recreational drones. The number of such vehicles registered for commercial use is only a “small fraction” of the vehicles registered by hobbyists, the CDA argued.

“From the Commercial Drone Alliance perspective certainly, and from the manned aviation community’s perspective as well, it was necessary regardless of intent to have a safety-based approach, a comprehensive framework, that would account for the safe integration of all UAS flying in the national airspace, regardless of intent,” Ellman said.

“From the commercial drone industry perspective [the proposed rule] is very positive, with the caveat that there are some concerns with the proposal that need to be remedied,” she added.

As Ellman spoke, a group of drone hobbyists gathered just more than a mile away to protest the draft rule over two days at FAA headquarters. Activists with the “Help Save Our Hobby” campaign described themselves as largely do-it-yourself drone builders, First Person View (FPV) enthusiasts who pilot their aircraft using goggles or video monitors, and small business owners in the field.

Among the picketers was Tyler Brennan, the owner of Racedayquads (RDQ), of Orlando, Florida. The business, which employs 25 people and sells prebuilt drones and components including frames, motors, batteries and props, would be severely impacted by the Remote ID rule as proposed, he predicted.

“I would say almost certainly RDQ would go out of business” if the rule becomes final, Brennan said. “Then it would be just a trickle-down [effect] to the whole industry—most of the manufacturing is in China, and 70% of their business is in the United States. So it will effectively destroy the hobby for the whole world.”

Josh Cook, vice president of the Virginia-based FPV Freedom Coalition, said the proposed rule is a “bad deal all around” for hobbyists that would create a barrier to entry and stifle innovation.

“We’re out there, we’re exploring our surroundings, we’re doing things that haven’t been done before and really pushing the limits of both ourselves and the gear,” Cook said. “To be able to do that freely is important. Flying around a field doesn’t let you explore those limits.”

Bill Carey

Based in Washington, DC, Bill covers avionics, air traffic management and aviation safety for Aviation Week. A former daily newspaper reporter, he has covered the commercial, business and military aviation segments as well as unmanned aircraft systems. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2017, he worked for Aviation International News and Avionics and Rotor & Wing magazines.