The FAA Proposed Rule On Remote Identification Will Kill Drone Flying

The FAA’s Proposed Rule On Remote Identification Will Kill Drone Flying article on drone photography bible

The FAA’s proposed rule on remote identification will kill almost all drone flying. Take Action Now

The purpose of the rule is admirable. It attempts to enable the FAA and pilots of manned aircraft to know the identification, location, altitude and other information such as speed and direction of flight of unmanned aircraft systems within the national airspace system. Such information is routinely transmitted by manned aircraft, not only in the United States but across the globe and is vital to air traffic safety.

With few exceptions all manned aircraft have transponders

Those transponders are set by the pilot to broadcast a unique aircraft ID number, as well as location, altitude, speed direction and a host of other data. Those radio signals are received and create an image on the radar screens of FAA controllers enabling them to guide an aircraft toward their destination airport and to avoid hazards such as other aircraft and geographic features. By requiring remote identification of unmanned aircraft systems such as drones, the rule would enable the FAA to guide manned aircraft to steer clear of potentially fatal hazards created by drones operating in the same airspace as the manned aircraft.

The word drone will not appear in the proposed rule

It is the common term for what the FAA calls UAS’s or Unmanned Aircraft Systems which the FAA considers to be any unmanned flying object which is remotely controlled by a remote controller and the UAS comprises both the aircraft and the controller. Therefore, it applies not only to quadcopters but also to all radio-controlled planes and helicopters such as those flown by hobbyists.

The rule also applies to both commercial and hobbyist aircraft that are flying anywhere in the national airspace, with exemptions for those weighing less than one half pound. The national airspace is not limited to public federal or state property, but covers private land also. The proposed rule is necessary for commercial entities such as Amazon to begin the use of drones to deliver goods by use of unmanned aircraft and is undoubtedly supported by such commercial enterprises. But it will have a prohibitory effect on most current drone operators as well as hobbyists who have been safely flying radio-controlled planes and helicopters for decades.

A few rotten apples are spoiling the barrel for the rest of us

Despite the claims of a small but vocal number of deniers from the drone community, it is clear that some sort of action must be taken to ensure the safety of commercial, military and other manned aircraft. Routinely, some reckless drone operators fly their aircraft in a manner that endangers manned aircraft. A purposeful disruption of air travel at Britain’s Gatwick airport was probably the most prominent example. But there have been countless other instances across the globe. A video shot by a drone operator off the Florida coast showed a manned helicopter, flying a perfectly legal flight path, fly below and within dangerous proximity to the drone which could easily have resulted in a midair collision.

Despite the relatively low weight of drones, such a collision could easily produce multiple fatalities. One need only consider the damage that would be done by a drone getting sucked into to the blades of a jet engine in a commercial airliner either as it was taking off or landing, times at which the aircraft is particularly vulnerable to loss of an engine.

While there is a clear a need for such a rule, the FAA has taken an unnecessarily broad approach to the problem.

While there is a clear a need for such a rule, the FAA has taken an unnecessarily broad approach to the problem. The proposed rule speaks of two different kinds of remote identification, both standard remote identification and limited remote identification. The rule requires the operators of unmanned aircraft systems to use one or the other forms of remote identification. The first would require a transponder similar to that used by manned aircraft however, it prohibits the use of standards transponders on drones.

The second type, a limited remote identification system, is clearly within the realm of current technology that many of us already use. The second type allows the transmission of transponder type information to the FAA through the internet. The position and altitude information would be transmitted by the drone to the remote controller as it currently is for almost all drones. The remote controller would have to have internet access which can be obtained through connection to the wireless cellular telephone system through an Apple iPhone or iPad or similar device.

Many of us routinely connect our controllers to the internet through cellular systems. But there is a limitation under the FAA proposal that renders that option of little use to drone pilots. The proposed rule requires that the drone be no more than 400 feet from the remote controller to qualify as a limited remote identification option. Imagine a dome over the pilot 400 feet high and having a 400 foot radius. Geometry establishes that at an altitude of 100 feet, the drone could only be about 380 feet horizontally from the operator; at an altitude of 200 feet, the drone could only be about 350 feet horizontally from the operator; at an altitude of 300 feet, the drone could only be about 160 feet horizontally from the operator; and at an altitude of 400 feet, the drone would have to remain stationary over the operator. To illustrate, and please forgive the crudely drawn illustration:

While those limitations may not be a problem for some drone operators, to many others, it would prohibit their normal use of a drone for photography, for recreation, for commercial and agricultural mapping and commercial inspections, among many other uses.

Drone height image from drone photography bible

While those limitations may not be a problem for some drone operators, to many others, it would prohibit their normal use of a drone for photography, for recreation, for commercial and agricultural mapping and commercial inspections, among many other uses.

There is one circumstance in which the rule would allow drones to fly without remote identification at all, and that it if the flight is at an flying field approved by a community based organization such as the Academy of Model Aviation (AMA). But this causes a different problem for hobby and commercial drone operators.

Most of the photography we do or commercial use of drones are not anywhere near an AMA approved flying field. That exception is of little or no value to most of us in the drone community. It will allow for the use of remote-controlled airplanes and helicopters are approved flying fields and so will not affect traditional radio-controlled modelers who are currently flying at AMA approved fields.

But all is not completely lost . . . yet

The FAA posted the proposed rule on December 31, 2019 and by law there is a required period of 60 days for public comment from the date of publication. Sufficient public sentiment can actually cause the FAA to modify the proposed rule. NOW is the time to make our collective voices heard in opposition to the specifics of the proposed rule. Many drone operators are members of the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) which will undoubtedly be lobbying for a change in the proposed rule and the drone community should join that effort.

As a practical matter, the FAA is not going to be swayed by comments which are simply against a change in the current rules by adding remote identification requirements. There is, as noted, a great need for some form of position reporting, but we can swim with, not against, the tide and support the concept while challenging the specifics of the proposed implementation.

My suggestion would be to write and ask the distance limitation of 400 feet from the remote controller be removed for limited remote identification reporting or at the least to expand the allowable distance well beyond 400 feet to the currently allowable line-of-sight distance limitation. That would give drone operators sufficient leeway to continue using their drones as they have. I would also suggest that our comments provide support to the traditional RC community.

While the AMA has not yet taken a position on the proposed rule, it would seem to support everyone’s purpose to simply remove the requirement for standard or limited remote identification for aircraft flown at established AMA-sanctioned RC flying fields and such fields could be shown on FAA’s aeronautical charts to inform pilots of manned aircraft that they must avoid flying too low when near those RC-flying fields.

Take action now! Contact the FAA via the process the below to give your views on remote identification

The FAA will accept public comment by several means, but perhaps the easiest is:

ADDRESSES: Send comments identified by docket number FAA-2019-1100 using any of the following methods:

Federal eRulemaking Portal: Go to http://www.regulations.gov and follow the online instructions for sending your comments electronically

You must include the docket number (FAA-2019-1100 ) with the comment.

Act now or risk losing your passion

About the author – Jack Cutrone

Drone Photography Bible would like to thank Jack Cutrone for submitting this guest article. He is an attorney and talented photographer based in America who uses a drone for his drone photography.

You can find some of his work included in this article but his full gallery can be found on his Instagram account. Please visit his page, view his work and follow him.

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Jack Cutrone

33 Comments

  1. How will this affect tourists? I have got my FAA registration sorted in preparing of a trip. Once this comes in, will we need the transponder as well? Can those not living in America comment as well?

      • You need to go to the FAA website Drone Zone and complete a form in order to fly in the US. Once this rule goes into effect it will apply to you too.

    • If your trip is soon it will not be an issue. The rule will not go into effect for three years. But once it takes effect it applies to all UAS’s in the National airspace.

  2. Lets see, totalitarian, anti-Liberties FAA Big Brother who thinks Guillow rubber band powered balsa toy planes are “aircraft” but you want to spy on us radio control multirotors flyers, know who we are, where we live and where we are at all times while operating communist chinese made aerial surveillance equipment banned by the U.S. military, whose chinese manufacturers are required by chinese spy law to cooperate with communist red army spy agencies.

    What could possibly go wrong?!

    And after you want to take away our liberties communist china style, you want us to give you all our information such as full name, mailing address, email, phone number fax number. Sort of like the Framers giving the British troops their home addresses or Hong Kong protesters giving mainland communist china their addresses, emails and tel #s.

    If we violate your new fascist, anti-liberty drone laws, will you ruin our social score, send troops to sleep in our beds with our wives while you take us away to concentration/reeducation camps to have or organs harvested? Oh, that’s right, you all will be reasonable, you’ll only steal tens of thousands of dollars of our money and if we refuse, you will send men with guns.

    What could possibly go wrong?!

    “Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.”-Plato

    “There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.”― Ayn Rand

    “Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”― William Pitt the Younger

    I suggest all flood the FAA and protect your selves form government intrusion into our personal lives. Feel free to quote any of my above post in your comments.

    https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/12/31/2019-28100/remote-identification-of-unmanned-aircraft-systems?fbclid=IwAR2kdCKV-uKbeZ5w8yWZpAu5bcpQXbOzirmPibnNePyVrr1Bl6GX9a7-1IM#open-comment

    • We in the drone community have given the FAA ample reason to impose the rule. There have been multiple close calls as well as at least one instance of a drone colliding with a helicopter which was legally flying where it was supposed to. Libertarians like you simply don’t understand that it can’t be left to individuals to decide what is ok and what isn’t. The result would be chaos and anarchy and a huge increase in midair collisions between manned and unmanned aircraft. There has to be some limitation on our “right” to be idiots.

      • Jack, criminals don’t follow laws and your tongue is dirty from all that boot licking.

        • True. Criminals don’t follow laws but law abiding people do. And that’s why we have them so the vast majority of people follow them. Idiots will always be idiots and do whatever they want no matter how dangerous. But if law abiding people follow them we all will be safer. And by the way, I don’t lick boots but I respect the law and you should too.

        • I responded but it fought posted. You’re right criminals won’t follow laws but law abiding citizens do and if they do the skies will be safer. I don’t lick boots but I respect the law and you might try it.

      • Hello Jack,

        This issue reminds me of some other situations and I see some parallels. Forgive the length of my reply.

        You wrote, “There has to be some limitation on our “right” to be idiots.” This limitation you dream of simply doesn’t, and cannot, exist. By idiots, you don’t mean those who are of very limited intelligence, you mean those who have very little common sense or judgement. Or, actually, you mean those who have ill intent. If there are actual idiots who wish to fly drones in a manner that is potentially dangerous, they probably won’t have the intelligence. Those with poor judgement, criminals or not, will do foolish and dangerous things, nothing can be done about that. To err is human nature. Criminals won’t subject themselves to laws, that’s why they’re criminals. Therefore, as with so many regulations today, the only people who will be affected by the proposed legislation are the law abiding citizens, in this case who are drone pilots, who wouldn’t do anything foolish or illegal anyway. That’s not to say they wouldn’t make a mistake, which is also why there cannot be “some limitation on our “right” to be idiots.”, because no matter what, people are humans and mistakes will be made.

        You cite an incident wherein a drone collided with a helicopter. There may be others. However, what percentage of the number of drone flights do those incidents, intentional or otherwise, actually comprise? There seems to be this notion that legislation will create perfection, that by enacting laws that all possibility of mayhem will be eliminated. It’s simply not so because humans are human, and some of them are evil.

        Recently my credit card was hacked by someone, presumably involved with a trucker, who was purchasing diesel fuel at truck stops 1500 miles from where I live. You would think that given the safeguards that credit card companies have in place that something like that could never happen because I have never been to those states and I have never purchased diesel fuel with my credit card. However, over $1200 of purchases were made and although I wasn’t responsible for those purchases, they happened just the same. But here’s where it gets really interesting. The reason these purchases were discovered is because I happened to check my credit card balance online to see what I would have to pay when the payment was due. The diesel fuel purchases were already a few days old. So I discovered them, not the credit card company. When I called to alert them, not having had anything like this happen to me before, I was amazed to learn that they would not attempt to find the perpetrators even though they knew exactly when and where the card was used and, being used at a truck stop, they would almost certainly have video footage of the transactions. Instead, the credit card company would simply file a claim with their insurance company to recoup their $1200 of losses. Whatever the identity thieves had done to duplicate my credit card, since there were no consequences for their actions, why would they not do it again?

        And that brings me to what should really be done when there are incidents involving violations of the far too many laws that are already in place burdening our lives. Enforce them! When idiots, or foolish people, are flying drones near airports, arrest them and punish them severely. If they’re underage, make their parents pay stiff fines. If they’re already criminals pursuing yet some other activities for illicit gains, hang them in Times Square. With just a few hangings, many of today’s problems would end. More importantly, onerous legislation that will seriously impose on the God given rights of law abiding citizens wouldn’t be needed. That’s not to say that people who believe that enacting laws will create perfection wouldn’t try to do it anyway.

        • Your thoughtful analysis is correct. But what I meant was that those who want to decide on their own what they should or shouldn’t do would produce anarchy. I was suggesting to them that their ideas are not workable. Regulations such as this are needed because of the idiots and hopefully some, ar lest will follow the law.

      • Hello Jack,

        This issue reminds me of some other situations and I see some parallels. Forgive the length of my reply.

        You wrote, “There has to be some limitation on our “right” to be idiots.” This limitation you dream of simply doesn’t, and cannot, exist. By idiots, you don’t mean those who are of very limited intelligence, you mean those who have very little common sense or judgement. Or, actually, you mean those who have ill intent. If there are actual idiots who wish to fly drones in a manner that is potentially dangerous, they probably won’t have the intelligence. Those with poor judgement, criminals or not, will do foolish and dangerous things, nothing can be done about that. To err is human nature. Criminals won’t subject themselves to laws, that’s why they’re criminals. Therefore, as with so many regulations today, the only people who will be affected by the proposed legislation are the law abiding citizens, in this case who are drone pilots, who wouldn’t do anything foolish or illegal anyway. That’s not to say they wouldn’t make a mistake, which is also why there cannot be “some limitation on our “right” to be idiots.”, because no matter what, people are humans and mistakes will be made.

        You cite an incident wherein a drone collided with a helicopter. There may be others. However, what percentage of the number of drone flights do those incidents, intentional or otherwise, actually comprise? There seems to be this notion that legislation will create perfection, that by enacting laws that all possibility of mayhem will be eliminated. It’s simply not so because humans are human, and some of them are evil.

        Recently my credit card was hacked by someone, presumably involved with a trucker, who was purchasing diesel fuel at truck stops 1500 miles from where I live. You would think that given the safeguards that credit card companies have in place that something like that could never happen because I have never been to those states and I have never purchased diesel fuel with my credit card. However, over $1200 of purchases were made and although I wasn’t responsible for those purchases, they happened just the same. But here’s where it gets really interesting. The reason these purchases were discovered is because I happened to check my credit card balance online to see what I would have to pay when the payment was due. The diesel fuel purchases were already a few days old. So I discovered them, not the credit card company. When I called to alert them, not having had anything like this happen to me before, I was amazed to learn that they would not attempt to find the perpetrators even though they knew exactly when and where the card was used and, being used at a truck stop, they would almost certainly have video footage of the transactions. Instead, the credit card company would simply file a claim with their insurance company to recoup their $1200 of losses. Whatever the identity thieves had done to duplicate my credit card, since there were no consequences for their actions, why would they not do it again?

        And that brings me to what should really be done when there are incidents involving violations of the far too many laws that are already in place burdening our lives. Enforce them! When idiots, or foolish people, are flying drones near airports, arrest them and punish them severely. If they’re underage, make their parents pay stiff fines. If they’re already criminals pursuing yet some other activities for illicit gains, hang them in Times Square. With just a few hangings, many of today’s problems would end. More importantly, onerous legislation that will seriously impose on the God given rights of law abiding citizens wouldn’t be needed. That’s not to say that people who believe that enacting laws will create perfection wouldn’t try to do it anyway.

      • “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” – Benjamin Franklin

        Fear mongering due to “what if’s” is not the way forward. A few close calls does not justify remote ID. As stated before, the people who could cause crashes will continue to do so. Statistically close calls have to happen it’s just how things work, Murphy’s law. But to give up privacy and freedoms is not how we should deal with this. Maybe limit altitude of small aircraft to nothing below 1000ft creating a 600ft gap between. Remote ID is one of the easiest things to get around, and I have spoken to a few police officers I know on a personal basis. They have stated they nor the department they work for have anytime for enforcement of this law if passed as they have real issues to deal with. Point being is I will still fly without a remote ID and many others will. So if we have no way to enforce it, and Senators have already voiced the same concern, it is effectively a waste of time, money and resources. And we all know this has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with corporate ownership of the skies below 400ft.

        • While I certainly agree that the Amazon and FedEx were instrumental in the rule making I can’t agree with your other comments. There are valid safety reasons for requiring remote ID. we haven’t had a drone bring down a commercial flight. YET. But unless they do something it will happen. And that chance is nothing to blithely write off.

  3. Why don’t they require the drone manufacturers to provide C2 decoding capabilities to the government, just like the DJI aerospace. This way they can track everyone without any of this mess

  4. Frustratingly, the proposed rules do not consider remote pilots certified under CFR14 part 107 who have passed rigorous knowledge tests.

    • Correct. There is no distinction in the rule between certificated commercial pilots and hobbyists. But it would defeat the valid purpose of the rule to not require commercial pilots to use remote ID. But that being said at the very least for commercial pilots the FAA should dispense with the 400 foot distance limitation for commercial pilots who are most adversely affected by the rule and allow line of sight flight as it does now. I advocate for allowing line of sight operations for all drones complying with limited remote reporting however, not just commercial pilots.

  5. Wont this just push people to doing what they did before DJI and other drone manufacturers came along… making DIY drones with no connection to phones, tablets or the internet?

    • It certainly does push drone pilots to do that. But as I point out in the article there is good reason to require remote ID of drones for safety reasons. Outlaws will continue to fly however they want but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have such a rule.

  6. When people break the existing rules, the rules get more and more restrictive.

    • True. It was the actions of a few irresponsible pilots that caused the FAA to propose the rule. As they say, you can’t legislate against stupid. But there are valid safety reasons for the rule.

  7. Why doesnt DJI or Parrot or any other the other companies with money behind them have their attorney’s sue to put in injunction on this if they keep moving forward until it can be litigated in court.

    • To get a temporary injunction you must demonstrate that you will probably prevail at the end of the lawsuit. That would not occur here. Courts give great deference to executive branch agencies such as the FAA and their decision-making. And as i have said there is a need for a rule such as this.

  8. Very good article. I’d like to add a little more data, and a couple of opinions, to learn your thoughts before I write my comment to the FAA & my federal representatives. Manned pilots are normally required to fly above 500 AGL, so usually legal operation by UAS would not encounter them. From that it would seem that position info would only be needed on UAS flights above 500 AGL in most circumstsnces. The FAA & FCC permit the construction of radio antennas up to a height of 200 AGL without any signals. Effectively, this means that any aircraft operating below 200 AGL may find a structure in its way without warning. Theoretically, the FAA controls everything from the ground up, but does it expect some child’s water rocket (using 250ml of water, or more) to also carry a transponder (I’m using transponder to mean any self-identification system)? It’s my understanding that international rules regarding transponders have been in preparation for years without taking sUAS into account. Those transponders are required to operate at power levels that would make equipment prohibitively large/expensive for sUAS.

    I’d like to make 3 suggestions to the FAA. First – revise the transponder requirements to permit miliwatt transmission power levels. It’s my understanding that these would still give ample warning to local aircraft. (You can contact the International Space Station with 5 watts on VHF) Second – allow flights, permitted within the current rules, an altitude limit of 200 AGL without any additional notification requirements, while at the same time requiring autonomous UAS (Amazon) flights to operate horizontally between 300-400 AGL. Third – now that flights over 200 AGL (my request – if granted) will require transponders, remove the 400 AGL limit in appropriate, uncongested airspace.

  9. Your suggestions would work but I question use of a low power transponder. While commercial flights would be able to pick up the signal most non-commercial aircraft would not meaning that they are not going to be aware of drones. I also have a question about the autonomous flight between 200-400 feet. I assume you mean within visual line of sight. I would advocate just removing the 400’ limit for distance from the remote controller but requiring limited remote ID by means of an internet connection and staying within line of sight. I think that would be safer.

    • The autonomous flights I’m referring to are those like deliveries from Amazon.com. One of the reasons for these new rules is to permit commercial drone deliveries. It would be quite difficult to equip those drones with adequate optical sensors to spot other drones.

  10. This will do nothing to help with any safety aspect. First, the cat is already out of the bag with hundreds of thousands of multirotors that can and will continue to fly long after any remote ID laws are passed. Everyone from people who simply don’t know better to those who don’t care will fly just as they did before. FAA enforcement is already zero and they claim that local law enforcement will handle any incidents. Nine out of ten police officers won’t care about this. Unless it’s a high profile incident nothing will happen- same as it is now.

    Second, this puts tremendous burdens on professional pilots and regular operators while doing nothing to stop those with criminal or malicious intent. Criminals will not fly drones that are registered. It’s absolutely absurd.

    Third, what this will do is push many professionals and normal operators to fly rogue since their are many incentives to do comply.

  11. So your theory is that since there are people who won’t follow the law, we shouldn’t have any laws? Help me understand.

  12. Now that some time has gone by after the posting of the proposed rule, people are commenting. As of today, there were about 3500 comments which is probably far more in this short a time than the FAA has had for other proposed rules. But a few observations are in order.

    Most are using a form comment that was prepared by the AMA. It makes legitimate points but they only apply to people flying at AMA sanctioned flying fields and says nothing about drone operators. IT DOES NOTHING TO HELP DRONE USERS.

    A second type of comment, not very common, tells the FAA that the proposed rule is horrible, a threat to freedom and democracy, a conspiracy aimed at law abiding citizens, etc, etc, etc. These kinds of comments are worthless unless your only purpose is to vent your spleen. They are not going to prompt the FAA to withdraw the rule or make any change to it.

    I have posted my own comment. I urge you to do so also, But please make it something that the FAA is going to pay attention to and not just write off as a crackpot’s comment. I made several points in the comment, but primarily, it is going to restrict all kinds of safe and reasonable drone usage such as drone photography and other recreational uses. But I also strongly state that it is going to deprive thousands of commercial drone operators of their livelihood. As written, it will prevent commercial aerial inspections of building, structures, power, cable and telephone lines, gas transmission lines, agricultural and other mapping, and off al things, search and rescue efforts. By imposing the rule the FAA is prohibiting these UAS flights that themselves are critical to public safety. I end by suggesting, as I did in the article, that the rule be modified so as to permit UAS flight that use the limited remote ID available through internet reporting, as long as it is line-of-sight. It may prohibit flights in a lot of wilderness areas that don’t have cellular service, but at least it will allow us to fly in a lot of desirable areas for photography and recreation.

    I would suggest that if you are going to comment, and you really should if you want to salvage something of our hobby, please make the comment a reasonable one that the FAA might listen to, perhaps something along the lines of my comment. Or I am sure, you can think of over legitimate activities that are going to be prohibited and don’t need to be.

    To make it even easier, here is the webpage at which you can comment:
    https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=FAA-2019-1100-0001

  13. So, correct me if I am mistaken, but I thought or assumed if you can broadcast via your type of drone, a remote ID, then you were as good as gold to fly where and when you want in class G airspace and if you can obtain LAANC approval, you can fly in controlled airport airspace. The issue is, if you fly a homemade drones or one that is not from a commercial manufacturer that does not offer any kind of built in broadcast system of a remote ID, then you are bound to a designated airspace by the FAA.

    • The proposed rule prohibits drones from having transponders. But even if permitted they are currently too heavy and too expensive.

What do you think?