Drone journalist Chris Korody is known for his in-depth analyses of thorny issues confronting the drone industry – like the Remote ID Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM.) In our continuing series on Remote ID, we’ve published viewpoints from all areas of the industry. This piece, republished with permission from Chris Korody of the Drone Business Center, addresses some of the issues with the basic premise of the NPRM: Will it be effective? Will it be enforceable? Will it really support applications like flight beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS)? Will it limit innovation and damage the industry?
Read on for a deep discussion of the potential pitfalls of the Remote ID NPRM: comment on the NPRM here until March 2.
The article has been edited slightly for length. The following is a guest post from drone journalist and consultant Chris Korody. DRONELIFE neither accepts nor makes payment for guest posts.
When I first read the Remote ID (RID) NPRM I described it as a ‘fairy tale’. Then I described it as a ‘Gordian Knot’ solution to the diversity and complexity of the low altitude commons. After six weeks, I was tempted to describe it as a ‘whiteboard pipedream,’ but I have come to understand that in fact it is a ‘black hole’.
In this issue I consider how the FAA has put the cart before the horse and in so doing has put the future of the commercial UAS industry at risk; as well as severely limiting the opportunity of recreational drone pilots, modelers, FPV enthusiasts and other members of the low altitude community.
If there is one thing that these past weeks have made clear, it is that we need an association that represents allof the pilots in this space. #OneSky
[On to] to the black hole, a gravitational field so intense that no matter or radiation can escape.
It’s a simple concept – once the RID rule is published the FAA will have no choice but to implement it. At this point, each of the many assumptions that comprise the NPRM becomes a potential point of failure. They are betting the house – and your future – that their concepts can be developed and delivered at scale by private industry on a timely basis. Because while the FAA will most certainly impact this schedule, with no money in the game they have very little ability to manage
If there is one thing investors hate it is uncertainty. At a minimum, the program will take the better part of four calendar years. There will very likely be lawsuits over privacy issues. There is a question of the FAA’s authority to regulate commerce. By their own admission, the budget is woefully incomplete. It already comes in at over half a billion dollars of OPM – other people’s money.
RID is a billion-dollar solution to a non-existent problem.
The FAA freely admits Draft p115:
“Although remote identification of UAS may not deter nefarious actors, it would allow the swift interdiction of the clueless and careless persons…”
Effectively what RID will do is burden the compliant in order to ‘catch‘ the careless and clueless so they can be ‘educated’.
THE NEW MATH
It is important to understand that nothing will change when the rule is published in 2020 or more likely 2021. It’s simply a starting point. Here is the timeline.
XVII. Proposed Effective and Compliance Dates (Draft p182-85)
2020 – YEAR ZERO For purposes of clarity, I assume that it will take the rest of 2020 to draft the rule. Looking at the historical data, this is a best-case scenario. The rest of the schedule will expand or contract accordingly. The clock starts 60 days after the publication of the rule.
2021 – YEAR ONE The FAA writes (Draft p250) “We expect means of compliance and Remote ID USS availability to take up to one year after the effective date of the proposed rule.”
2022 – YEAR TWO Manufacturers begin work – in theory, the first products hit the market at the end of the year. How long it takes to ramp production, fill the pipeline and land quantity on shelves is a different question, as is market acceptance. Given the complexity, I expect a lot of wait and see since at this point there is no urgency to buy.
By the end of YEAR TWO, non-compliant products can no longer be sold. Ask yourself what happens if there are no, or only a few compliant models available for sale at this point. It is reasonable to argue that the cost of compliance will put numerous manufacturers out of business and keep others from entering
Easy to see how this could be bad for choices, competition and advancing the state of the art.
2023 – YEAR THREE (Draft p184) “Once UAS with remote identification are widely available, this proposal would allow an additional one- year period of time for UAS owners and operators to purchase and transition to operations of UAS with
At the end of YEAR THREE, it will be illegal to fly anything not equipped with Standard or Local Remote ID. Without getting sidetracked, Local ID is a ridiculous concept. It is hard to imagine a manufacturer or a retailer wanting to support two SKUs with a minimal price difference. And it is not going to do much for an RC pilot whose Futaba doesn’t connect to the Internet.
At some unspecified point, RID USS comes online. More about that in a minute.
2024 – YEAR FOUR Day One Requirement to remotely identify (89.105) (1st day of the 37th month)
Table 5: Proposed Compliance Dates (Draft p184-85) suggests that the FAA will not consider that RID has been implemented until Day One. Remember that publishing the OOP and Night rules is dependent on the Remote ID Rule. How does that work for you?
Voluntary compliance is not mentioned in the NPRM. However, since the DAC meeting in May 2019, the FAA has been talking a good game about ‘voluntary compliance’ suggesting that at some point waiver requests will become contingent (or given preference) to those willing to adopt the technology prior to the deadline. No doubt the goal is to create an ‘early win’ to report back to Congress and other key stakeholders – e.g. DHS and DOJ.
To kick start the idea, the DAC was tasked with presenting a series of recommendations to incent people to comply early. It was relatively easy for the DAC to spitball some ideas for Part 107 operators. Where they came up short is with the recreational fliers who do not rely on the waiver system.
Think about this carefully because here are the ‘gotchas’. The expectation is that for some manufacturers, e.g. DJI, it will be relatively trivial to implement the squawk on both existing and future models. The message contents and format have already been defined by ASTM, and DJI has already demonstrated their ability to broadcast from current models. You are not alone if, given the current climate, you see a certain irony in giving DJI a competitive advantage.
What I and many others foresee as being considerably more challenging, is the complexity of implementing the ‘go/no go’ functionality.
RID has to ‘work’ flawlessly or numerous aircraft will be erroneously grounded or forced to land.
Naturally, the FAA will not be at the receiving end of the irate calls to
Besides, there will be no RID USS to receive the signals for several years.
Working with an industry group selected through the RFI, the FAA intends to establish the technological interfaces between Remote ID USS and the FAA, and demonstrate and evaluate a prototype remote identification capability. The FAA anticipates that Remote ID USS will be available to the public by the effective date of the final rule. [i.e. 2024, my emphasis]
So voluntary compliance or not, ask yourself the more important question, how will the FAA handle waivers between now and 2024? Because they aren’t saying…
A SPADE IS A SPADE
Enables the FAA, national security agencies, and law enforcement entities to obtain situational awareness of UAS in the airspace of the United States in near real-time.
It is important to understand that what the RID NPRM describes is a security tool that will provide the basis for continuous 24/7/365 surveillance of every compliant drone in the United States.
Beyond that, the FAA fails to make its case. (Draft p7)
This is an important building block in the unmanned traffic management ecosystem. For example, the ability to identify and locate UAS operating in the airspace of the United States provides additional situational awareness to manned and unmanned aircraft.
Upon close examination, it is clear that RID, as described in the NPRM, will do nothing to improve safety. RID does nothing to promote situational awareness of either manned or unmanned aircraft. It is a ground-based solution that has nothing to do with air to air. Could it be so used – perhaps – but that is not part of the current plan.
The argument is that RID is foundational to UTM. I don’t buy it. Let’s be real. Not everyone will need to be part of a UTM – certainly not the recreational community. And there is a legitimate question about how many business operators will benefit enough to want to pay for it.
Conversely, adding RID to UTM is a comparatively trivial task. Because there is no way that a carefully secured private UTM is going to rely on RID to register and identify the aircraft it is controlling. Would you?
The most fundamental concept, and an obvious first step – integrating RID into LAANC – is not even described in the NPRM. In fact, the NPRM proposes adding ten new RID USS on top of the ever growing number of LAANC USS including mega multi-nationals looking to get in for cheap.
Another argument is that RID is foundational to BVLOS. Let’s be really real. An even smaller subset of those who will use UTM will fly BVLOS. It is clear that BVLOS will depend on DAA and a whole system of certifications and technologies that have yet to be developed much less standardized. Almost nothing in the air today will make the cut. And almost no one will be able to afford it. Keep in mind that a BVLOS rule is not even on the DOT calendar at this time.
RID will never be certified for BVLOS. The FAA is already in discussions about what the new standard will look like.
FAA Exploring How Manned Aviation Can Benefit from Drone Remote ID. It is hard to see a BVLOS solution without licensed spectrum (which has been allocated since 2012 – but the FCC has not yet acted.)
Finally consider this. With the exception of five-mile ‘circles’ around some 500 airports, ~98% of America that touches the ground is uncontrolled Class G airspace which operates under VFR (visual flight rules) based on the principle of ‘see and avoid.’ It is highly unlikely that manned aircraft operating in the low altitude airspace (<400’ AGL) will buy a transmitter or receiver to read RID.
WHAT ABOUT PRIVACY?
I am always astonished when the FAA declares that as a civil aviation safety agency it does not have to concern itself with privacy. Perhaps that is why their attorneys are so myopic about the issues that RID will create.
The issue that has drawn the most attention from the pilot community is that the location of the drone operator will be made available in ‘near real-time’ to the general public. The concerns range from the distraction of having people come up to a pilot while the aircraft is in the air, to fear for their physical safety. (This based on many experiences.)
Not many people know that the ASTM standard leaves it entirely up to the FAA to decide which message elements (data fields) will be available to each class of user. Providing the public with the location of the operator does not solve any security problems – and quite possibly creates new ones – so I very much hope that this is something that will be changed by public comments.
But there is a much bigger issue. Each USS will be required to maintain the data for a period of time, currently contemplated as six months. Each USS will secure and safeguard the data, while making it available to the FAA and authorized law enforcement agencies – all while developing and pursuing their own
The concerns that are encapsulated in a recent article in WaPo, Apps Are Selling Your Location Data. The U.S. Government Is Buying.
The rationale for warrantless surveillance in this case sidesteps Fourth Amendment law — or tries to. The Supreme Court ruled in Carpenter v. United States that the government couldn’t subpoena geographic data directly from cellphone companies without going through the courts, precisely because of that data’s “depth, breadth, and comprehensive reach.”
RID is nothing but geographic data.
Effectively, the FAA, DHS and 18,000 police departments will be able to circumvent the 4th Amendment.
They will be able to continuously surveil every pilot in the sky from take-off to landing. Furthermore, in addition to the RID data, every time that someone uses their cellphone to connect to their USS, the carrier has a record. The two types of records can of course be combined…
Travis Moran wrote an excellent guest post almost two years ago, Will the Drone Please Take the Stand.
It’s just a matter of time until law enforcement learns to request coordinates and flight plans. Learns to request video and audio. Learns to ask if anyone (e.g. a dispatcher,) watched the mission and if so, what they observed.
When Travis wrote this, the assumption was that a ‘request’ meant a warrant or court order. But with RID hypothetically one could search by coordinates and get six months’ worth of data about who flew in that airspace, when and how often without needing a warrant.
That would be enough for probable cause at which point the FAA would be forced to reveal the identity of the registered owner. But check this out because it’s going to be even easier than that.
In addition, when correlated with registration information, remote identification of UAS also would enable law enforcement officers to determine some information about who the UAS’ owner is before engaging the person manipulating the flight controls of a UAS directly.
The problem, of course, is that the registered owner and the pilot are not always going to be the same person. More technology could fix the problem as would more focus on the registration and licensing process.
And nowhere in the NPRM, C. Data Privacy and Information Security (Draft p170) does the FAA specifically address prohibiting a RID USS from selling the data to help fund the service they are providing to the FAA. The most they say (Draft p171) is that:
The FAA expects that the MOA would require user permission for any data sharing or additional information gathered by the Remote ID USS.
Remember, the FAA is not concerned about privacy. Best read your EULA!
No UAS could be produced for operation in the United States after two years and no UAS could be operated after three years except in accordance with the requirements of this proposal.
Under what authority will the FAA will enforce this? It has nothing to do with civil aviation safety.
Drones are not sold in state-run stores. Do we suppose that the FAA is going to send agents to monitor every point of sale in the country – both brick and mortar and online? How will they even locate them?
According to the NPRM, 83% of all drones are imported. (Draft p195) That makes this a complex port of entry issue, involving some combination of the Department of Commerce and US Customs.
This suggests that the plan goes something like “bad things will happen if you
SHOW ME THE MONEY
Summary of Costs and Benefits. (Draft p30)
This proposed rule would result in additional costs for persons responsible for the production of UAS, owners and operators of registered unmanned aircraft, community based organizations, Remote ID USS, and the FAA. This proposal would provide cost savings for the FAA and law enforcement resulting from a reduction in hours and associated costs expended investigating UAS incidents.7
What is much more telling is Footnote 7:
This analysis includes quantified savings to the FAA only. A variety of other entities involved with airport operations, facility and infrastructure security, and law enforcement would also save time and resources involved with UAS identification and incident reporting, response and investigation. The FAA plans to update its estimates of savings for additional information and data identified during the comment period and development of the final rule.
Table 2: Preliminary Estimates of Costs and Cost Savings of Proposed Rule ($Millions) (Draft p32-33) comes in at a cool US$581 million over ten years.
With such round numbers it is impossible to know what is and isn’t included in the calculations. Add in everything and everyone that is not included, and this little project will net out closer to a billion dollars over ten years.
Watch the bouncing ball closely here.
The $581M is projected over ten years. To pull this off, the FAA estimates that it will spend US$56 million dollars. That’s US$5.6M/yr. Resulting in a total cost savings to the FAA of US$2.45 million dollars – or $245,000 a year achieved through reduced hours for FAA investigations.
What a bargain.
Meanwhile, though it is not presented that way, the rest of the budget is heavily front-loaded. Manufacturers, retailers, pilots, RID USS and much of the ecosystem will all have to invest the majority of the remaining US$530M to get to Day One. This is why I say that the FAA is taking the whole industry on a magic carpet ride – what if the money isn’t there?
Then there is this assumption:
Draft p 235
Given the average three-year UAS lifespan, the three-year operational compliance period would likely assist producers in depleting existing non-compliant inventories with reduced impact compared to the proposed one-year compliance period.
Think about the existing manufacturer and retailer inventories, inventory in transit, inventory delayed in customs and so forth. It’s not like a faucet where you just turn the water off.
Another thing that is not addressed is the cost of rolling this out to 18,000 police departments and training 750,000 sworn officers which I went on about at length in Perspective: RID and Law Enforcement. The nuances and complexities create a daunting task.
Since there is no demonstrated threat, it is entirely reasonable to expect that budget-challenged departments will simply ‘skip it’ or designate one or two officers to deal with it and call it done.
While I agree that the four-year schedule is reasonable, what will the impact be on the competition and investment that is the lifeblood of the industry? Keep in mind that Part 107 is less than four years old … At the current rate of innovation, RID will be obsolete by the time it is implemented.
What is the business proposition for the RID USS who play a critical role in this concept? What restrictions will be put on their use of the data?
How long will the FAA be mired in privacy lawsuits?
How will the FAA regulate commerce? Never mind enforce the rule…
And what about the cost? Considering how little this actually accomplishes, is this really a billion dollar solution?
If it’s going to take four years … just how critical a problem is it?
Finally, let’s play a game. What do you think is a reasonable estimate of market penetration (adoption) in 2030? By what metrics will we – as well as the FAA and other stakeholders – judge the success of this undertaking?
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam or (for paid consulting engagements only) request a meeting through AdvisoryCloud:
Subscribe to DroneLife here.