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AOPA seeks to improve drone tracking

Formal comments on FAA proposal being prepared

Editor's note: This story was updated February 4 to correct an erroneous quotation of AOPA Director of Regulatory Affairs Christopher Cooper. AOPA regrets the error.

While AOPA supports remote identification of unmanned aircraft in broad terms, the rules that the FAA has proposed would impose needless burdens on recreational users and others who keep their aircraft in sight.

FAA-proposed remote identification requirements would apply to all unmanned aircraft that weigh 250 grams (.55 pounds) or more, regardless of the purpose for which they are flown. Jim Moore photo.

AOPA shares many of the concerns expressed in more than 8,000 comments submitted less than a month after the December 31 publication of a notice of proposed rulemaking that would fundamentally change federal regulation of unmanned aircraft.

AOPA's chief concerns:

  • The proposed rulemaking creates an onerous burden on recreational users that is not justified by the risk their operations pose;
  • Internet connectivity requirements are unnecessarily broad; and
  • Public access to remote pilot location information could compromise remote pilot safety.

AOPA’s main concerns align closely on many key points with other organizations including the Academy of Model Aeronautics, whose members have safely flown “traditional” radio-controlled model aircraft for decades. AOPA joins the Experimental Aircraft Association in opposing aspects of the FAA rulemaking proposal that would do harm to a hobby that propels many pilots into general aviation.

The proposed regulations would require virtually any unmanned aircraft weighing more than 0.55 pounds (250 grams) to provide its location through remote ID technology. Flying under “standard” remote identification, or within 400 feet under “limited” remote identification, would require an internet connection. The FAA proposal would allow “standard” remote identification flights in places where no internet connection is available, but require a network connection to a third-party service provider at all times when such a connection is available.

AOPA is concerned that the FAA’s proposal will create an onerous burden to model aircraft users.

If the proposed rule is enacted as written, the vast majority of model aircraft enthusiasts would be confined in three years (when the remote identification requirements are all in effect) to flying only in designated areas approved one by one as FAA-recognized identification area(s), or FRIA, as defined in the NPRM. Each approval would be subject to periodic renewal. The FAA has not yet recognized any “community based organizations,” but they will have just 12 months following publication of the final rule to apply for their FRIAs.

This seems to set up a cumbersome process that will impose unnecessary cost and inconvenience on thousands of hobbyists, and demand more time from volunteers for organizations such as AMA, which has a stellar safety record in airspace shared with manned aircraft. The FAA should not require volunteer staff of established AMA airfields to spend many more hours applying for FAA permission to continue doing what they’ve been doing safely for years.

“Existing AMA facilities should be designated FRIAs without undue burden, and subject to similar, if not the same, conditions of the agreements they already operate under,” said AOPA Director of Regulatory Affairs Christopher Cooper. “That is one of several issues we continue to analyze, and our recommendation will be included in the comments AOPA will submit before the March 2 deadline.”

AOPA believes the applicability of the internet connection requirement for “standard” and “limited” remote identification will result in excessive costs, and internet connections should not be required for line-of-sight operations. 

Law enforcement can and should be able to identify nearby unmanned aircraft and learn the identity and location of the registered owner, whether the aircraft is individually registered or one of many registered to the owner in question.

Aircraft and owner identification can generally be accomplished by radio broadcast from the aircraft alone; a network connection for traffic management services need not be required of any aircraft that is incapable of flight beyond the pilot’s line of sight.

Another troubling element of the proposed rule that has drawn the ire of many commenters and that AOPA strongly opposes is the potential for the GPS location of the remote pilot to become public knowledge in real time, to virtually anyone, anywhere. This would potentially compromise the privacy and even the personal safety of any remote pilot, and AOPA cannot support that. The FAA should establish clear data encryption standards for remote ID messages broadcast from the aircraft that limit access to sensitive information to law enforcement users alone.

AOPA also supports maintaining the status quo for aircraft registration requirements, rather than forcing recreational users to register every aircraft separately, because that will make compliance more expensive for recreational users without significantly benefiting public safety.

The FAA appears to underestimate the harm that subjecting traditional radio-controlled model aircraft to the restrictions created by the proposed rulemaking will do to a grassroots, volunteer-driven community that provides a valuable service to the broader aviation community, and the country.

FAA rejected request for more time

AOPA will provide several specific recommendations and rationale that will improve the proposed rules by reducing needless burdens on most drone pilots and traditional model aircraft enthusiasts alike, focusing the more stringent (and expensive) requirements on operations that could pose an increased risk to the airspace and the public, such as unmanned aircraft flying beyond visual line of sight to deliver packages or inspect pipelines.

AOPA staff are working to quickly prepare detailed comments due by March 2. The association was among several concerned parties that asked the FAA to extend the comment period beyond the 60 days required by law, given the ramifications and complexity of the proposed changes. The FAA rejected this request.

Less than a month remains for anyone concerned about remote identification of drones to weigh in before the FAA closes the comment period March 2. AOPA encourages members to use the opportunity available to submit individual comments on any issues of concern, and share their comments with AOPA.

Jim Moore

Jim Moore

Managing Editor-Digital Media
Digital Media Managing Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot, as well as a certificated remote pilot, who enjoys competition aerobatics and flying drones.
Topics: Drone, Aircraft Regulation, Security

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