Well, it happened. I finally made contact with one of my inspirations – actually my ORIGINAL inspiration and perhaps the biggest drone pilot on YouTube. I received a text message from Ken Heron today.
Ken. Freaking. Heron.
For those of you who may not know who Ken Heron is, it’s time you got yourself learnt up by clicking here. Ken is one of YouTube’s leading drone pilot personalities and brings a great combination of useful FAA and flight-related knowledge and slapstick, morning-drive hilarity.
Now, back to business: why am I attending this protest in Washington, D.C. on February 29th aside from the opportunity to assist somebody I look up to within the drone community, you ask?
Because it’s the right thing to do.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed legislation that would require all drones to transmit some kind of remote identification or RFID. This remote identification transmission would allow the FAA to identify drones and their pilots based upon a signal put off by the UAS while in operaiton. On paper this sounds pretty reasonable — remote identification could only be beneficial and make the skies safer for everyone by discouraging illegal flights and ensuring that every UAS is linked to an identifiable party who can be held accountable for that aircraft.
The flaw in this logic and the proposed legislation comes in three prongs, each representing an scenario where remote identification is utilized to varying levels of restriction. I’ve outlined them below as concisely as possible:
- Standard Remote Identification. This scenario requires all UAS to transmit an RFID signal while in operation. This signal can contain either a serial number, which would have been given to the aircraft upon production, or a session identification number which would be granted to the aircraft on a per-flight basis from an unmanned service supplier (USS) like AirMap or Kittyhawk. On top of that, the UAS would also have to transmit the control station location — or the location of the pilot-in-command for the layman; the aircraft location including barometric altitude; a GPS time mark for both the aircraft and the control station; and a conditional status indicator to alert monitoring parties of potential emergencies the aircraft may be experiencing including, but not limited to, a lost connection or catastrophic equipment malfunction.
- Limited Remote Identification. Pilots are only required to broadcast their operational location in this scenario. However, while the physical control station location is the only identifier required for transmission, the aircraft being operated may only travel radially 400 feet from the pilot’s location.
- FAA-Recognized Identification Areas. There is no requirement for pilots to transmit remote identification data in this scenario. Instead communities will be allowed to establish areas where pilots can fly without remote ID capabilities, but must maintain a visual line of site.
A few things to note about me and my background before I get into my preachy sermon on this particular topic:
- I fly DJI drones. I’m not a fanboy. I love DJI, but if another company comes along and puts up a fight, you can bet I’ll give them the time of day. That’s another topic for another day though – the point is DJI came out in a statement recently addressing the proposed FAA legislation and announced that they have been manufacturing their drones with RFID capabilities for quite some time now. The equipment I use is already compliant with the legislation on the table.
- I like to think of my drone as a camera on a tripod that just so happens to be able to freely move through three-dimensional space. When I’m flying with a purpose (i.e. for a commercial job or an independent project) I rarely find myself more than 400 feet away in any given direction. I want to be able to see my aircraft so I can measure up angles and flight paths in real-time in order to get the best shots in the safest manner possible.
- I fly my drones for business and for creative purposes. I am not an FPV guy. Mad respect to them because what they do is vomit-inducing work and I commend them on their ability to fly so well without getting sick. It’s crazy cool, but I personally have no desire to get into that branch of the industry. I’ll leave it to the professionals.
Keeping all of that in mind, two of the three scenarios proposed by the FAA don’t greatly impact my experience. There is a 66.6 percent chance that I’m not going to feel any major changes in the way I fly in five years when the proposed legislation, if passed, is expected to take effect. The only scenario that I truly have no interest in becoming a reality is the FAA-Recognized Identification Areas because we’ll all essentially be crammed into a small defined space (a.k.a the biggest field our town has to offer) and expected to play nice and “enjoy” flying in the space that we are provided. I don’t know about you, but one thing I’ve learned from my time using Instagram is that you can only post the same location so many times in a row before people totally lose interest. I cannot imagine how they would react to the same open field every single day.
Despite the odds being in my favor, I’m not down with letting any of this go down as proposed.
No matter why we fly — for hobby, money, or sport — we are all in the same boat at the end of the day. If the FAA is allowed to pass this legislation, we are basically rolling over and letting them take away our hobby to make way for companies like Amazon, FedEx, UPS and to be able to navigate the skies in a “pay-to-play” model where their bank account can earn them right-of-way in all air traffic situations below 400 feet. Staying in compliance with remote identification laws will not be an issue for them as they will be able to afford the technology to make that possible.
The average citizen will, more often than not, not be so fortunate.
I’m getting too rambly. I can feel myself more easily falling into tangents with every stroke of the key. So, let me just summarize all of my thoughts and all of this information and everything that I’m feeling into one simple paragraph:
“I believe remote identification could open a lot of doors for pilots like me. The ability to legally fly my UAS outside of my visual line of site is somewhat exciting to me and will make for a much more immersive experience overall. However, if what I see as an opportunity takes away the privileges of folks in the FPV community or folks who build their own drones, it’s not worth it. I love this industry and I love the people in it. I want everyone to experience the same euphoria I do while flying their drone. As it stands now, the legislation on the table will not allow for everyone to have that same burst of euphoria. Remote identification as it is proposed now is bad, mmkay?”
We have just a few days left to comment on this legislation. The FAA has opened the floor and now is the time for all of us to speak up against this proposal. Make your voice heard by clicking here to submit a comment and let the FAA know that they need to go back to the drawing board before proposing remote identification legislation again. Do not let our hobby die. Do not let the FAA and its lobbyist cronies like Amazon take away our rights and privileges as UAS pilots. FIGHT THE POWER, MAN!
If you’d like to attend the protest with us in Washington, D.C. on February 29th, please subscribe to my social media channels where I will post details in the next day or two as I learn more.