Table of Contents
In Droneland, as a community, we like to pretend that everything is peaches and cream. We do! I’ve been flying now for some time – 12 years.
In that time, I have seen many things happen and I have met some of the most wonderful people.
Fellow pilots who easily become fast friends, as we all already have one tie that binds us together; the love of flight. Like many in our community, I consider us all to just be extended family of one another.
The reality is that those same fellow pilots are my competition. When I don’t book a job, it’s because one of those other pilots did. Overall, it is all friendly.
One can see, though, as more and more pilots enter the field, these things may change.
I can say with quite a bit of honesty, my clients, the big ones, don’t care who flies their mission. Just as long as it gets done. In one aspect that’s great, meaning even new pilots will be able to get work and gain those valuable flight skills.
There is always another side of that coin, which is those clients of mine won’t be loyal to me, a seasoned pilot they’ve used many times, if that other pilot undercuts my rate. That’s just how it is.
So, there is a balancing act within our community to keep things friendly and to keep sharing information openly, as it is this facet alone that will keep our community growing and informing those who may need the knowledge we retain.
As in any community, there may be times of strife that in the end only strengthens the community as a whole. We are in one of those times right now with this upcoming regulation change.
There are plenty of pilots that are on the other side of the line from the FAA and this has of course led to some division within the greater Drone community.
Drone Regulation Background #
In the earliest days, it was a free for all. We look back now and think of it as the wild west of drone piloting. It was a time before regulations had caught up to us as pilots.
It was also due to this period that regulation had to happen. We were reckless with our newfound flying machines, and in the interest of safety for the greater population, regulations became necessary.
As it stands, the first regulations concerning UAVs were all the way back in 2005. This was a simple memorandum, AFS-400 UAS Policy 05-01.
This in a way was humorous at best as it wasn’t till 2007 that UAVs were even determined to be aircraft.
It was at this time that it was decided to separate UAVs from what they had been considered to be previously, which was model aircraft.
It was also at this time in 2007 that a Policy Statement was made concerning the operation of drones.
We would learn from the results of a court decision in 2014 related to a 2011 attempt to fine a commercial drone operator by the FAA that NTSB Judge Patrick Geraghty found the FAA had not followed the proper rulemaking procedures and therefore had no UAV regulations.
The FAA did appeal the decision. However, by that time the point had become moot, as with the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, rules for commercial drone operations were now temporarily in effect with a deadline of September 30, 2015 being the date the agency would have to have official regulations in place.
As hard as it may be to even conceive, the FAA even at one point claimed that while such regulations were pending, it was illegal to operate commercial unmanned aerial vehicles, except for approved non-commercial flights under 400 feet if they followed Advisory Circular 91-57, Model Aircraft Operating Standards, published in 1981.
I realize that I just threw a whole lot at you. In a nutshell, what the above shows and represents is confusion.
Confusion on a large bureaucratic scale where no one part of the system has any idea what it is that they are doing. Not only was it the wild west for pilots, but it was also a circus in the halls of our government.
In 2012 we first start seeing some logic-based regulations start to form. As it was at this time that many parties started in with their two cents.
In 2014, movie makers, real estate agents, criminal-defense lawyers, and farmers were among at least 68 groups with a political interest in drones.
At least 28 universities and local government agencies as well as Amazon hoped to use drones civilly someday.
In June 2014, the Motion Picture Association of America stated its support of an FAA exemption for the use of small drones in limited low-risk scenarios in film and television productions.
As you can note the time from 2012 to the final decision of 2015, many groups and individuals were lobbying for their own little bit of these soon-to-be new regulations.
It ran the whole gambit, with money flying in every direction.
Not only from the side that saw the value and potential of this technology, but those who were dead set against it because of not being able to control it or charge for its use.
This is so important to keep in mind, as time has gone by. These groups on either side of the aisle are still out there. They are still doing what they have always done lobbying for their side.
Now we come to 2015. This was a major turning point for everything drone-related.
For the first time, true-on-paper, signed, sealed, and delivered drone regulations were brought into existence. The very same rules we all are flying by today, for the most part.
For example, all UAVs weighing more than 250 grams flown for any purpose must be registered with the FAA, and unlicensed recreational UAS operation is only lawfully permitted if the UAS is operated for purely non-commercial purposes.
It was also the first time a Pilot could become a commercial operator with the addition of Part 107. Early on, the big issue I recall was the requirement to register your aircraft.
This set some pilots off and led to several legal arguments that eventually were lost in the courts and the FAA gained the right to require that drones be registered.
At that time the agreement really stemmed from privacy concerns for the pilot and that is where we started to really see a division between a Hobbyist pilot and a Commercial operator.
As these new regulations took effect, one could see there was an attempt at balance – safety in the public interest and safety in the pilot’s interest.
These regulations for the most part were logical and made sense.
Since that time, the regulations have changed some and of course, there have been delays in the implementation of things all due to budgetary restraints and lack of manpower.
The truth is, we were the products of our own success. During the time from 2005 to 2012, we showed the world what we could do with these new contraptions.
Some came away with fear, some with excitement, and of course some with greedy intent.
If you go back to early YouTube you’ll see flying over people. There’s plenty of footage out there showing that it happened.
Such footage as someone capturing a local town parade, or of a local graduation that someone’s child was a part of.
As I said, these were the early days of droning, and although it could be argued that no pilot went purposely out of their way to disturb others, that would be a lie.
There were plenty of new and at the time somewhat new pilots that may have not used their best judgment sometimes. After all, the technology on a consumer level was only a year or two old.
Do remember that we are looking at a time when most new drone owners had no idea that there were such guidelines to follow as AMA rules.
To be frank, the technology was so new at the time the FAA as the regulating body was taken aback and had no plan whatsoever as we’ve seen.
Even the adherence to any flying club standards wasn’t in place yet. We didn’t have any guidance in those days. Things were done that today, well, are now against regulations. You get the idea.
The Federal Aviation Administration was created on August 23, 1958. With the one-time motto of Safety First, Last, and Always!
Plus our own actions, as well as the push for commercialization led to a real need for something in the form of regulations so everyone would be doing the same thing and operating in a safe manner.
Those days led to the next period in the land of drones – the period between 2012 and now. The period when the FAA started to form a plan and enact it.
This was a very intense period and it eventually led to the rules we’ve all been flying under for some time in 2015.
The FAA was presented with a serious problem though. That problem was how to disseminate the new regulation information and how to get old and new pilots alike to follow them.
It was at this time that the FAA led the campaign of education over penalization.
The reason for this was simple. How could you punish a pilot for something that was just enacted, and they may not even be aware of?
It was also around this time that we started to see such educational sites as Remote Pilot 101 and Pilot Insitute.
Prior to this, finding any of the required information to prepare for the new Part 107 exam – at that time it was new – was abysmal at best.
I remember when preparing for my initial Part 107 exam, I was armed with only what I could trust from the FAA itself as many, many scam sites had popped up.
These sites claimed they would help you and even arrange for your testing. It was insane, and every one of them was a scam.
I on the other hand followed what the FAA had stated would be the needed knowledge and then like anyone I sought out the information and learned it.
A quick side note, my local library had no idea! What I was referencing when I went there and inquired about sectional charts, that poor lady brought me every chart she could think of: city building plans, county plot maps, etc, etc.
Turns out my library just didn’t have anything along those lines. I gifted them a copy of my old sectional chart when I updated it. So, they have one now at least.
That’s the point though.
Although there were new regulations in place, and as a pilot who wanted to be doing things the right way, I had to search high and low to find the information, as well as be besieged by scammer outfits claiming to provide that information.
The FAA had no plan, and as such many new pilots were taken advantage of.
It wasn’t just pilots, though. Oh, no! Regular everyday people were being taken advantage of as well.
This was also the same period of time when companies were spinning the tale that they could regulate the airspace above your business or home. Geofencing was now a thing, and you could buy it!
As we have all come to learn and know, there is only one regulating body for airspace in the National Airspace System and that is the FAA.
They also don’t sell geofencing. They do however issue TFRs or Temporary Flight Restrictions.
This is interesting only due to the fact that the FAA can put any airspace off-limits for either a short period of time, or like in the case of Disney, a lifetime TFR.
I know that sort of goes against the grain of Temporary, but that’s how the FAA goes about it. To us pilots, we know this. To the general John Q. Public, that’s a whole other story. It’s not general knowledge.
So, the Geofencing scammers did a number on the public’s trust. Now we find ourselves back in the wide eye of additional regulation.
This time around, the FAA has provided us with ample time to not only become aware of the new regulations but also how to be within compliance when they go into effect.
We also have the FAA going directly against its own mandates of regulation for the sake of safety. No, the FAA in conjunction with National Security Agency has moved its focus to Security over Safety.
Remote ID (RID) #
As we are all aware, on September 16th, 2023, drone pilots will need to be in compliance with the new Remote ID Regulations. It’s happening! Nothing short of an asteroid hitting this rock will change it now.
Many don’t realize that the beginnings of RID stem from the same 2015 regulations we’ve been using. RID was always on the table.
What it took was some time to, one, make a ruling and two, to finagle a way to even do it. The final ruling was published in 2021.
So, what is it?
Remote ID will require most drones operating in US airspace to have remote ID capability. Remote ID will provide information about drones in flight, such as the identity, location, and altitude of the drone and its control station or take-off location. Authorized individuals from public safety organizations may request identity of the drone’s owner from the FAA.
That’s it in the FAA’s own wording. So what does it do?
Remote ID helps the FAA, law enforcement, and other federal agencies find the control station when a drone appears to be flying in an unsafe manner or where it is not allowed to fly. Remote ID also lays the foundation of the safety and security groundwork needed for more complex drone operations.
Once again, this is from the horse’s mouth. On the surface, it sounds really good, doesn’t it? After all, this is coming from an administration known for focusing on safety.
Don’t get me wrong. Security is nice, and being able to conduct more complex flights, sounds really good.
Although it doesn’t really say what that entails, it could mean shielded operations, or beyond visual line of sight. Whelp! Your guess would be as good as any I could provide.
This is the problem and has always been the problem; half-thought-out regulations that never seem to be completed.
Similar to the case we covered above, where the ruling by the court determined the FAA had not, in fact, completed the process properly, and therefore no such regulations exist.
That’s not going to be the case with the RID ruling.
With the final ruling and the process that was to be followed, the FAA did indeed cross their I’s and dot their T’s. They learned from the mistakes made previously and were sure to not do it again.
Although the process was followed, it seems as if the fix was in before the race gun even fired for a start.
This is very evident in the attempt to have it as Network RID originally. In the end, it was decided to go with Broadcast RID.
What’s the difference, you may be wondering?
Broadcast RID #
Glad you asked. As a network RID system, one would have to have a monthly service provider, a network, as it would have been through a cellular network and their services.
With Broadcast RID, the aircraft or attachable module broadcast the required information, and anyone with the app can view that data.
Now for a moment, let’s consider a question. Do you own the airspace above your property? Bear with me here. There is a point.
As we’ve already seen, there is a pattern in the FAA and its regulations, and this question proves that point in a beautiful way.
So, you’ve had a moment to think of the answer. Did you say Yes, or did you say No?
The answer, believe it or not, isn’t as simple as just a yes or no. The answer is yes. The actual answer is yes.
You do own the airspace above your home or property. You just don’t have any control over it, as the FAA controls the airspace of the NAS.
This argument goes back to a SCOTUS decision in 1946, US VS. CAUSBY.
This case was decided in favor of Causby and led to the use of easements by the Federal Government to take and control airspace above one’s property.
Since that time, there have been several other cases that have gone all the way to the highest court in the land.
The thing about these types of cases is they show that the FAA as an agency doesn’t follow through. The issue of airspace ownership is the type of question that should have a definitive answer each and every time.
In most of these cases, we are dealing with manned aircraft, and as such, regulations came from these cases that have led to the 500ft. rule for manned aircraft.
In the end, it’s really left in the undecided category. What is not undecided is 49 U.S. Code § 40103 – Sovereignty and Use of Airspace.
This ties into the public’s right of transit, which states:
(a) Sovereignty and Public Right of Transit —
(2) A citizen of the United States has a public right of transit through the navigable airspace. To further that right, the Secretary of Transportation shall consult with the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board established under section 502 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. 792) before prescribing a regulation or issuing an order or procedure that will have a significant impact on the accessibility of commercial airports or commercial air transportation for handicapped individuals.
(b) Use of Airspace —
(1) The Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration shall develop plans and policy for the use of the navigable airspace and assign by regulation or order the use of the airspace necessary to ensure the safety of aircraft and the efficient use of airspace. The Administrator may modify or revoke an assignment when required in the public interest.
(2) The Administrator shall prescribe air traffic regulations on the flight of aircraft (including regulations on safe altitudes) for—
(A) navigating, protecting, and identifying aircraft;
(B) protecting individuals and property on the ground;
(C) using the navigable airspace efficiently; and
(3) To establish security provisions that will encourage and allow maximum use of the navigable airspace by civil aircraft consistent with national security, the Administrator, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, shall—
(A) establish areas in the airspace the Administrator decides are necessary in the interest of national defense; and
(4) Notwithstanding the military exception in section 553(a)(1) of title 5, subchapter II of chapter 5 of title 5 applies to a regulation prescribed under this subsection.
(d) Aircraft of Armed Forces of Foreign Countries.— Aircraft of the armed forces of a foreign country may be navigated in the United States only when authorized by the Secretary of State.
(e) **No Exclusive Rights at Certain Facilities.—**A person does not have an exclusive right to use an air navigation facility on which Government money has been expended. However, providing services at an airport by only one fixed-based operator is not an exclusive right if—
(1) it is unreasonably costly, burdensome, or impractical for more than one fixed-based operator to provide the services; and
(2) allowing more than one fixed-based operator to provide the services requires a reduction in space leased under an agreement existing on September 3, 1982, between the operator and the airport.
This is interesting in the fact that it does not mention airspace heights in any way.
What it does do is lay out the groundwork for something like Remote ID and give authority to the FAA for making such a program mandatory.
That’s the thing; to find what came out of this, we would have to go and find it, wherever that may be. There’s never any attempt to make finding such information easy.
It’s these sorts of things and half-truths that lead to a citizen having a distrust of their government.
After all, I know many a drone pilot that believes property owners have no say in what’s happening above their home. To a degree, they are correct.
This is where invasion of privacy laws can come into play, and other things such as trespass.
RID: The Dark Side #
As we’ve seen, we have an Agency that doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to their policies, getting them enacted, fully covering the subject, and so forth.
In the world of manned aviation, they say, “The regulations are written in blood.” Sadly, this is the truth.
In the realm of manned aviation, major safety changes and regulations only seem to come after a major tragic event, like that of a crash.
In the realm of unmanned aviation, there has yet to be a single death attributed to unmanned flight. Yet, we have constant and ever-changing regulations around our industry. This could be attributed to a few factors.
- The FAA is doing its very best to be proactive and keep the airspace safe.
- The FAA knows this is completely new territory and is looking to build systems that will last for decades to come.
- The FAA is simply overrun with duties and responsibilities and is severely understaffed and, as a result are hiring unqualified persons who do not understand the topic very well and are just going through the motions.
Now, I believe it’s a combination of all three. It’s the third one, though, that is the real issue.
We are, after all, talking about a major piece of our governmental system, and come this summer, there won’t even be anyone running it, with the most recent nominee withdrawing and the current interim director stepping down.
It’s hard to imagine just what is going on over there.
We also have the President of United Airlines, who released a bombshell article on the air traffic control systems and how they’re archaic.
It would seem the FAA is a bit overwhelmed, and trying to implement a new system like RID just seems illogical.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly #
The Good #
I have pointed out in the past that the National Airspace System does indeed need something along the lines of RID.
When we look over at Manned Aircraft, they themselves have a system in place that tracks and monitors their movement within the NAS.
It’s called ADS-B, or Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast and it is a lifesaving system.
At any given moment, there are approximately 5,000 aircraft traversing the skies above the US, with an average of 43,290 daily flights.
A system like this allows for the position of all that congested air traffic to be known and for Air Traffic Control to be able to safely guide these aircraft around.
If all of this sounds sort of familiar, well, that’s because, in essence, that’s what RID is, just for Drones instead of manned aircraft.
It’s easy to think that this system has been around forever, but that’s not the case. It was only implemented in 2006 and consisted of three phases that were finalized in 2020.
This system has proven invaluable for pilots and Air traffic control alike, providing better situational awareness, and efficiency within the National Airspace System.
Now, much like the ADS-B System, you can monitor Air traffic at home and know where each of these aircraft is located by using websites and apps such as FlightAware, or Airdata.com.
So having a system like RID is certainly beneficial and useful. That’s the GOOD!
The Bad #
Much like the statement “In the Furtherance of a Business,” the FAA has many a time left us without clear guidance. After all, it would seem that the above statement is interpreted in many different ways.
Could it have been better written? NO! It’s legalese, and they want to leave it open to interpretation. When we look over all of the current known information, we find several sections with this writing style.
Now, we come to the crux of all this. Safety is not the issue.
In the time that UAVs have been in the air, there have only been a handful of crashes that either led to minor property damage or on just a few occasions an actual person involved.
There have been no deaths whatsoever.
Security. That is what RID has become about. If it was indeed safety based, there would be no need for the ground station’s location to be broadcast.
So then it is about security. Not the type you may think though. This is not about making the airspace safer for manned and unmanned aircraft.
This is about finding pilots and being able to catch them in the act and be able to punish them. After all, why else would the ground station location need to be broadcast at all?
When any authority would be able to access your name and address simply by the aircraft’s registered ID. That’s the BAD!
The Ugly #
Which leaves us the ugly. What happens if you’re caught flying and not in compliance with the RID-mandated regulation?
One could easily assume that since the FAA doesn’t really have an enforcement branch or department that, getting caught wouldn’t amount to much.
Well, the simple fact is that each and every RID infraction could cost you $2,500.00 an occurrence. Ok, I know, that’s not likely ever to happen. What if it does?
I don’t believe anyone in our industry or community is not aware of PhillyDroneLife and the $200,000 plus in fines that the FAA levied against him for a multitude of infractions.
Now I am not going to say if I feel that pilot was right or wrong. I don’t need to.
The FAA has spoken for us here and has found that that drone pilot was indeed flying against the regulations, and he was fined accordingly.
What it does show is that it can indeed happen and will, far more often once every police department or just random Karen is able to track us and file a complaint with the FAA.
The very same undermanned and overworked FAA that just won’t have time to look into each and every complaint thoroughly and really decide each case on its merits.
No, it’ll be like a traffic court, where they only want the perception of justice and keep everything moving along, whether there is a legitimate case or not. If that was all, it wouldn’t be too bad. That’s not all.
We also will have a new component added, in the name of pilot safety. When I fly commercially, I wear a Hi-visibility vest and make my presence easily known.
In these cases, I am flying a contracted flight, and these are the precautions I use to avoid issues.
For the most part, it works. If someone does have an issue with what I’m doing, they can find me and discuss it.
When I fly as a hobbyist, I don’t wear the vest, as I am just looking to enjoy the act of flying and prefer not to be disturbed.
Sometimes people still come up to me, and that’s fine. These folks are usually just curious and it’s a good chance to share the experience.
Now! What if they had ill intent? As a drone pilot with an aircraft in the air, I’m already distracted. As I should be, my focus is on the aircraft and what it is doing.
This means I am not entirely focused on what is happening around me on the ground.
So, right there is an opportunity for an ill-intentioned person or persons to take advantage of that. By broadcasting the ground station’s location, I have now become a much easier target than I already am.
This is going to lead to theft and robbery from pilots, without a doubt. As sad as it is to say, there will be people using these RID Broadcast Apps to find and rob drone pilots.
On average, think about all the gear you carry and the total cost if you had to replace it right now. We’re in the thousands, tens of thousands.
With this simple oversight in broadcasting the ground station location, the above will happen, and then we’ll, unfortunately, join our brethren in manned aviation with blood on the tarmac and our own regulations being written in such.
That’s the UGLY!
Closing it Out #
As you can see from the above, we’ve only touched on the FAA and its history of regulation and its near misses. The fact is, they do a great job. They are underfunded; they are understaffed.
They themselves have little guidance at this time, with one Director going out and most likely just another interim Director being brought in.
After all, any agency that is responsible for the entirety of our airspace and all within it should be as well funded as that of our military.
I’ll remind you – 43,290 daily flights, on average carrying 300 passengers for a total of 12,987,000 people’s lives depending on this agency every single day.
They do have a track record of keeping all those people safe. Don’t lose sight of that.
We also already have a similar system in place for manned aircraft, so it is not unreasonable to expect one in the unmanned arena. Are there aspects of this system that are untasteful? Yes.
September 16th, 2023, is coming, and you, as a pilot, will have to decide whether or not you comply.
Fly Safe, Fly Always, Always Fly Safe!
References:1. AC 91-57 – Wikipedia (link)