FAA Releases UAS Remote ID, Tracking Report; Groups Dissent

The Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Identification and Tracking Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC), chartered by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in June, has submitted its report and recommendations (PDF) to the agency on technologies available to identify and track drones in flight and other associated issues, the FAA has announced.

According to the agency, the ARC’s 74 members included the aviation community, industry member organizations, law enforcement agencies and public safety organizations, manufacturers, researchers, and standards entities involved with UAS.

Overall, the ARC provided the FAA with a substantial amount of useful data, including very detailed technology evaluations and a comprehensive list of law enforcement needs and preferences, the agency says. The recommendations and suggestions, which are detailed in the report, cover issues related to existing and emerging technologies, law enforcement and security, and implementation of remote identification and tracking. Although some recommendations were not unanimous, the group reached general agreement on most, the FAA says.

As laid out by the agency, highlights of the recommendations include as follows:

  • The FAA should consider two methods for remote ID and tracking of drones: direct broadcast (transmitting data in one direction only with no specific destination or recipient) and network publishing (transmitting data to an internet service or group of services). Both methods would send the data to an FAA-approved, Web-based database.
  • The data collected must include a unique identifier for unmanned aircraft, tracking information, and drone owner and remote pilot identification.
  • The FAA should promote fast-tracked development of industry standards while a final remote ID and tracking rule is developed – potentially offering incentives for early adoption and relying on educational initiatives to pave the way to the implementation of the rule.
  • The FAA should implement a rule in three stages, with an ultimate goal that all drones manufactured or sold within the U.S. that comply with the rule must be so labeled. The agency should allow a reasonable grace period to retrofit drones manufactured or sold before the final rule is effective.
  • The FAA should coordinate any ID and tracking system with the existing air traffic control system and ensure it does not substantially increase workloads.
  • The FAA should exempt drones operating under air traffic control or those operating under the agency’s discretion (public aircraft operations, security or defense operations, or with a waiver).
  • The FAA must review privacy considerations in consultation with privacy experts and other federal agencies, including developing a secure system that allows for segmented access to the ID and tracking information. Within the system, only persons authorized by the FAA (e.g., law enforcement officials or airspace management officials) would be able to access personally identifiable information.

Though the ARC reached consensus on most issues, the FAA says, there were dissenting opinions, primarily over to which drones the ID and tracking requirements should apply.

For example, many of these dissenting opinions expressed concerns over recommendations to exempt model aircraft operating under Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. They feared that doing so would undermine the value of an ID and tracking requirement, the agency explains.

In turn, several ARC participants have filed a dissent from the recommendations. The effort was led by the Commercial Drone Alliance and signed by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, the Aerospace Industries Association, the National Agricultural Aviation Association, X, GE, uAvionix, Ford Motor Co., AirMap, and General Atomics, who say they “appreciate the extensive efforts of the ARC but strongly disagree on the critical point of who and what UAS should have to comply with ID and tracking requirements.”

Specifically, the groups take issue with the following aspects of the report:

“It recommends that the FAA consider an Option 1 that expressly exempts model
aircraft from UAS ID and Tracking; it recommends that the FAA also consider an Option 2 with a narrow capabilities-based threshold that effectively exempts a large segment of model aircraft/UAS from UAS ID and Tracking; and it did not include a recommendation for a risk-The Small UAV Coalition is pleased to see the report published and urges the FAA to immediately move forward with a rulemaking that proposes to require all UAS operators who are required to register with the FAA to abide by remote identification and tracking requirements, critical tools to ensure both safety and accountability in the national airspace.based weight threshold for UAS ID and Tracking.”

The groups fear that having “exemptions for a massive segment of the UAS industry” and lacking a weight-based threshold for compliance with the rules could “greatly undermine the value, benefits and utility of UAS ID and Tracking – not to mention, jeopardize the safety of the airspace and comprehensiveness of any future [unmanned traffic management system].” The full dissent from the groups can be read here.

Likewise, the Small UAV Coalition says in a release that, like drone registration, Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 should not preclude the FAA from implementing remote identification and tracking standards for all UAS operators. In turn, the group urges the FAA to immediately move forward with a rulemaking that proposes to require all UAS operators who are required to register with the FAA to abide by remote identification and tracking requirements. (A recently signed bill by President Donald Trump mandates federal registration for both commercial and hobbyist pilots, once again.)

The coalition notes it also stands ready to work with lawmakers and regulators to reexamine Section 336 in an effort to resolve security concerns that have impeded the development of regulations that will support the growth of the UAS industry in the U.S.

In a statement, Chad Budreau, public relations and government affairs director of the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), an ARC participant, says, “[This] announcement is another step towards fostering safety in the national airspace. We agree that tracking and remote identification makes sense at some level, depending on the UAS sophistication and capability. We strongly believe that we must also continue educating all UAS pilots, which is what truly equips hobbyists and commercial operators to fly responsibly. We look forward to continuing our work with the FAA and UAS industry stakeholders to keep our skies safe for all.”

The FAA notes it will use the data and recommendations in the ARC report in crafting a proposed rule for public comment. The full ARC report can be found here.

1 COMMENT

  1. Someone correct me if I am wrong, but doesn’t the FAA’s NEXT Gen ADS-B technology already provide an excellent venue for reporting a drone’s GPS position, altitude, speed, rate of decent/ascent and ownership/operator data? The weight and cost of an ADS-B “OUT” only system addition should be very negligible. The system should be minimal because it would consist of only three separate circuits: a GPS receiver module ($10), a single chip MCU board like a Raspberry Pi or Arduino that would contain the program computing the GPS receiver output data and assigning the operator’s ID (inputted from a personal computer via the on-board USB) and then interfacing all that to a 1,090 mhz transmitter (and an antenna) of extremely low power (since aircraft with ADS-B “IN” receivers would need to know of the UAS’s flight a whole lot less of the distance away than an actual aircraft’s).

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