Sky not Big Enough: FAA Report Impacts Drone Industry

The Federal Aviation Agency’s rule-making committee (ARC)’s report implied that the sky isn’t big enough for both commercial and recreational drones without regulation. The recommendations, that could bring aerial delivery closer to reality, sparked debate in the drone community.

Among the report’s recommendations were considerations for identifying and tracking drones:

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 (2) network publishing (transmitting data to an internet service or group of services). Both methods would send the data to an FAA-approved internet-based database.”

Such identification and tracking processes lay the foundation for rules that extend the viability of drones, allowing them to fly in the dark and out of sight– actions the FAA currently prohibits. The report also addressed the privacy of drone operators.

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, airspace management officials, etc.) would be able to access personally identifiable information.”

Allowing law enforcement access to tracking small devices increases the viability of drone delivery in the U.S., according to Bloomberg.

Recreational drone operators need not fear that their private information becomes public, but if they misuse the technology or endanger other aircraft, law enforcement can more easily hold them accountable.

“The report comes on the heels of the first U.S. accident report involving a drone-caused midair collision,” Bloomberg reported. “Drone incident reports collected by FAA have risen steadily and concerns have grown over the potential for terrorists to use the devices for attacks.”

A drone flying outside the sight of its operator– who “didn’t know that federal authorities had temporarily banned all drone flights in New York,” Bloomberg said– collided with an Army helicopter.

Whether operators who violate the rules were aware or not, the drones are potentially dangerous if not used conscientiously. The FAA’s report proposes regulating all users– not just those who did not regulate their own behavior– to help prevent accidents.

Disagreement

Participants disagreed over the type of tracking system to use. “Some participants preferred a simple radio broadcast that could be monitored only by those nearby,” according to Bloomberg. “Others wanted a more complex network in which drone tracks would be available anywhere.”

The latter removes the aspect of privacy.

“Organizations have quickly made their reactions and responses public by issuing statements,” Drone Life reports. “Leading drone manufacturer DJI was among the first, coming out in support of their own Aeroscope system which uses a direct broadcast system (one of two identified options in the report).”

Other groups called for waivers to fly small crafts without requiring identification.

Representing 195,000 recreational operators, the Academy of Model Aeronautics claimed “their model planes can’t fly long distances and don’t create a hazard,” and that its members have good safety records. They suggested the FAA allow members to fly in approved locations without requiring identification devices.

Manufacturers’ Support

Manufacturers had a different perspective. Kara Calvert, Director of the Drone Manufacturers Alliance, said:

Law enforcement, national security and aviation safety authorities need a simple and reliable way to monitor airborne drones. We appreciate how the ARC’s careful work has shown that direct broadcast technologies are the most efficient way to transmit, receive and analyze drone identification information. We urge the FAA to use this report to implement technologies that will pose a minimal burden upon drone users and manufacturers, which will encourage compliance, and keep the skies safe for drones, traditional aviation and the general public.”

The Alliance also supported the ARC report’s recommendation that manufacturers can add drone tracking technology using existing drone equipment, because “new equipment requirements would add cost and engineering complexity to drones as well as impose new burdens and costs” upon users.

The FAA is considering industry and hobbyist concerns. In the meantime, the agency has a free app, B4UFLY, that contains current information on locations that authorized hobbyists may safely fly their drones.

About Breanna Kane

A happy realist, I like finding new ways to tackle age-old processes through writing and debate. In my spare time, I’m perfecting the argument that proper neutrality is not passive.

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