The commercial drone market is on the cusp of taking off. The safety, security and efficiency benefits from using UAS for commercial and public safety tasks are innumerable. From industrial inspection and disaster response, to precision agriculture and cell tower inspection, to delivery of goods, newsgathering and critical infrastructure security – and everything in between – the positive impact of drones is seemingly endless. A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report estimated the global market value of UAS-powered solutions at over $127 billion.
While the potential for this market is substantial, the policymaking around drone use has lagged behind technology. Current rules limit drone flights beyond visual line of sight, over people, and at night. The Commercial Drone Alliance (“Alliance”) is committed to working with the federal government to integrate drones into our National Airspace System safely and securely. To this end, the Alliance recently hosted a Domestic Drone Security Summit, bringing policymakers and industry together to inspire collaboration and understanding. Building on that conversation and others, the Alliance here suggests a framework for the federal government as it considers domestic drone security issues.
We appreciate the opportunity to meet with OIRA to discuss these principles as they apply to the ANPRM entitled “Safe and Secure Operations of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems,” RIN 2120-AL26.
Require Basic Rules of the Road for all UAS: Commercial drone (or “UAS”) use in the U.S. is growing at an exponential rate. To promote the continued growth of the UAS industry, the Alliance believes that basic ‘rules of the road’ are necessary for all UAS operators in the National Airspace System. The FAA must require registration, remote identification, and tracking of all UAS in the sky over a certain weight threshold. This step is necessary to enable the FAA to move forward with rulemakings to allow operations over people, beyond visual line of sight, and other expanded operations that will facilitate the expansion of the commercial drone industry, while also providing a solution to safety and security concerns.
Enable Technology Solutions to Policy Problems: There are many technology solutions to the security issues that we face. For example, Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management (“UTM”) systems in development now will open the airspace in a safe, secure, and responsible way. We should seek to implement UTM in a timely manner, and the federal government must adopt further enabling regulations with UTM in mind.
Establishment of Remote UAS ID and Tracking Requirement: The Alliance believes that establishing a comprehensive Remote UAS ID and Tracking system is a critical step to enable the ongoing and timely expansion of authorized commercial drone operations. A Remote UAS ID and Tracking system is a common-sense step forward for the drone industry, government, and society at large in establishing reasonable controls to protect against potential safety and security threats posed by UAS, as well as to maintain the safety of the National Airspace System.
The Commercial Drone Alliance believes that any Remote UAS ID and Tracking system should be built upon the following bedrock principles:
● Basic Requirements Common to All Drone Operations With Vehicles Weighing 250 Grams or More: In order to be successful and ensure compliance, any new rule must be simple and easy to understand for drone pilots, manufacturers, owners, and public safety officials. Simplicity will promote compliance, and compliance promotes safety and efficiency of the National Airspace System, enabling sustained growth and innovation to succeed. Any common-sense formula must also focus primarily on risk. To this end, the Alliance believes that a basic weight threshold – 250 grams or greater, as with the FAA’s existing drone registration threshold – is appropriate. As we seek to grow the commercial drone industry exponentially, a basic and universal level of compliance is critical for the viability of successful unmanned aircraft traffic management systems.
● Capability-Based Tiered Approach: Flights within the scope of 14 C.F.R. Part 107 or Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 should be required to meet a baseline requirement for remote UAS ID and tracking that applies, with limited exception noted below, to all drones weighing 250 grams or more. As the FAA expands operations through additional rulemakings or waivers, those operations should include enhanced remote ID and tracking requirements. For example, an operation beyond visual line of sight should comply with requirements above and beyond those imposed on an operation within visual line of sight. Acknowledging the model aircraft industry’s history of safe operations, the Alliance believes there should be a limited carve-out for model aircraft flights occurring within a registered Academy of Model Aeronautics (“AMA”) field. Such a carve-out would enable hobbyist flights in approved areas without needlessly having to comply with a new set of regulations.
● Shared Responsibility for Operators and Manufacturers: Shared responsibility for the operator and manufacturer makes the most sense to enable enforcement of a Remote UAS ID and tracking requirement. This mirrors the manned aviation context, in which both manufacturer and operator share responsibility for ensuring the safety of the National Airspace System: Aircraft and aircraft component manufacturers are responsible for building safe aircraft and components, and operators are responsible for the safe maintenance and operation of aircraft. Consistent with current practice under the FAA’s registration rule and Part 107, the UAS operator should be responsible for inspecting the vehicle prior to operation to ensure compliance with a Remote UAS ID and tracking requirement. To the extent that compliance with any new rule would require specific equipage or technology for the drone, the burden must also fall on manufacturers to ensure that the drone has that technology or equipage installed, or that such technology or equipage is available to operators for installation on drones that do not have it already.
● Flexible Implementation: Any new rule should be based on performance-based standards, rather than prescriptive regulatory mandates. As drone technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, any specific technology mandate will be quickly outdated. A prescriptive rule that mandates a particular technology would stifle innovation and disincentivize the development of new technologies that will make drones safer and more efficient. For this reason, the Alliance supports a technology-neutral and interoperable approach. The information transmitted must be receivable through a variety of currently available devices like smart phones and other internet or Wi-Fi connected devices.
● Data Privacy and Government: While it is critical that law enforcement has access to data when necessary, it is also critical that this authority remains appropriately tailored and, in line with general privacy and legal principles and constitutional protections, available to officials only on an as-needed basis. Accordingly, data should be accessible to law enforcement only where and when it is needed, limited reasonably by time and geography. The Alliance believes that relevant tracking data should be retained for a reasonable period of time to allow public safety and other individuals to have access to information critical to investigations.
● Trusted Operator System: It is very important that authorized commercial operators have the opportunity to proactively gain the trust of public officials and the general public. Any new rule should include a trusted operator system similar in concept to the TSA Pre✓system where safe and responsible operators can voluntarily provide additional details about their organization and UAS operations to be vetted and evaluated. Trusted operators should have the option of making information available to both public safety officials and members of the public. This information would help public safety officials with threat discrimination and provide a means to inform members of the public that a particular drone is being flown by a known safe operator and that the drone’s mere presence should not be a cause for alarm or concern.
About The Commercial Drone Alliance
The Commercial Drone Alliance is an industry-led, 501(c)(6) non-profit association that is dedicated to supporting commercial drone industry market growth. The Alliance brings together commercial drone end-users, manufacturers, service providers, and vertical markets including oil and gas, precision agriculture, construction, security, communications technology, infrastructure, newsgathering, filmmaking, and more.
The Alliance aims to educate and collaborate with lawmakers at all levels of government on the benefits of commercial drones, technologies that enable safe flight, and continued growth of the commercial drone industry.