Mixed reactions to the FAA’s new drone regulations

On December 28 last year, the United States’ Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had a present for commercial drone operators in the country – they can now fly drones over people at night.

The only catch is that the drones adhere to regulations regarding remote identification and installation of Remote Identification technology on their drones.

A Remote ID is a kind of a digital licence plate for drone

“Remote ID provides identification of drones in flight as well as the location of their control stations, providing crucial information to our national security agencies and law enforcement partners, and other officials charged with ensuring public safety,” wrote the FAA when announcing what they called the final rules for commercial drones in the USA.

“Airspace awareness reduces the risk of drone interference with other aircraft and people and property on the ground. Equipping drones with Remote ID technology builds on previous steps taken by the FAA and the drone industry to integrate operations safely into the national airspace system.

The USA’s new Part 107 regulation will provide commercial drone operators with more flexible ways to fly over people at night without a waiver; a situation which was impossible with the old regulations.

The new rules also eliminate the requirement for drones to be connected to the internet to transmit location data but requires them to broadcast remote ID messages via radio frequency broadcast instead.

Uhh… what?

It was at this point that somebody raised their hand to object.

Wing, Alphabet’s drone delivery and unmanned traffic management subsidiary, wrote a thank you, but no thank you blog to the FAA in response, asking them to remodel their present in some parts.

“Unfortunately, the final rule,” wrote Wing of the new drone regulations, “unlike existing international standards, does not allow the use of equally effective network remote ID, and requires all UAS, no matter the use case, to use “broadcast” RID.

“This approach creates barriers to compliance and will have unintended negative privacy impacts for businesses and consumers. Unlike traditional aircraft flying between known airports, commercial drones fly closer to communities and between businesses and homes. While an observer tracking an airplane can’t infer much about the individuals or cargo onboard, an observer tracking a drone can infer sensitive information about specific users, including where they visit, spend time, and live and where customers receive packages from and when.

“American communities would not accept this type of surveillance of their deliveries or taxi trips on the road. They should not accept it in the sky. Over the next 18 months (by which time drone operators are required to have complied with remote ID regulations), we urge the FAA to expand the pathways by which an operator can comply with the FAA’s remote ID requirements, enabling compliance through broadcast or network technologies.”

The FAA has said it received and addressed more than 50,000 public comments on the proposed remote-identification rule, which the regulator is confident will further the safe integration of drones into the national airspace system.

Wing argues internet-based tracking “allows a drone to be identified as it flies over without necessarily sharing that drone’s complete flight path or flight history.”

And while Wing were trying to find areas of concern with the final rule, Chinese drone maker DJI has said they are cool with it.

“DJI has long supported the FAA’s Remote ID initiative because it will enhance drone accountability, safety and security,” the company said in a statement. “The FAA’s deliberative process of reviewing over 50,000 public comments has resulted in a rule that will serve the whole industry, as operators move on to more complex drone operations that save lives and benefit society. We are reviewing the final rule to understand how DJI can take steps towards complying with the FAA’s upcoming requirements.”

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