The Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS”) Identification and Tracking Aviation Rulemaking Committee (“ARC”) released its recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”). Despite a lack of consensus on issues, the recommendations should help the FAA develop new rules for drone identification and tracking. Although the FAA was scheduled to publish an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on identification (“ID”) and tracking requirements in May 2018, the proposed rules remain under review by the Department of Transportation and have missed a February 2018 deadline for the Office of Management and Budget to start its review. It is unclear when the rulemaking will progress.

Launched in June 2017 to address concerns over “rogue” drones flying in the National Airspace System (“NAS”), the FAA tasked the ARC with providing recommendations regarding UAS remote identification and tracking technologies. Comprised of three Working Groups; Existing and Emerging Technologies, Law Enforcement and Security, and Implementation, its membership represented a broad range of aviation and UAS industry stakeholders. The ARC met several times to educate the public, gather information, and to discuss and deliberate among members and finalized its report in September 2017. Expansion of UAS ID and Tracking Requirements

Among the most significant recommendations, the ARC recommends that the tracking requirements apply to remote pilots of UAS, not to the manufacturers. However, the manufacturers would be required to indicate whether their products meet the identification (“ID”) and tracking requirements, and if so, to turn on the ID and tracking system without giving the pilot an option to turn it off.

The ARC did not reach consensus on the thresholds for the ID and tracking requirements, but proposes two options for the FAA’s consideration. The first option is that all UAS comply with the ID and tracking requirements, except certain types of operations, such as flights within visual line-of-sight, recreational flights, and operations under Air Traffic Control (“ATC”). The second option is that the requirements apply to UAS that can fly without active control of the remote pilot or farther than 400 feet from the control station. Regardless of these options, the ARC recommends excluding UAS operated with ATC equipment, used for law enforcement, and security and defense purposes, and those flying under an FAA waiver from the ID and tracking requirements.

Dissenting opinions expressed concerns over the exemption of model aircraft (or recreational drones) operating under Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act 2012. Model aircraft are a growing concern in the aviation industry, particularly after recent events, such as the collision of a recreational drone and Army helicopter in New York. Exempting model aircraft from the ID and tracking requirements would not further the FAA’s safety and security goals.

Two Methods for UAS ID and Tracking – Direct Broadcast or Network Publishing

The ARC also proposes two methods to identify and track UAS:

  • “Direct broadcast,” involving the transmission of data within a certain broadcast range and which requires FAA-developed industry standards to ensure that the UAS and receivers can communicate; and
  • “Network publishing,” involving the transmission of data to a database accessible to clients such as Air Traffic Control (ATC) or public officials.

Each UAS would need a unique identifier, provide the aircraft position and control station location, and provide the owner and the remote pilot information to approved users only.

In addition, the ARC anticipates that ATC would need to interface with the UAS ID and tracking systems. The FAA would also need to address airport and critical infrastructure concerns over UAS ID and tracking technologies, such as financial burdens, security procedures, and any safety impacts or interference to safe airport operations. The ARC also identified several additional issues for the FAA’s consideration, including access to data.

Three-Stage Implementation

The ARC suggests a three-stage approach to implement the ID and tracking requirements. First, during the pre-rule stage, public safety officials will have the opportunity to express concerns over the requirements to the FAA and the FAA will respond. Second, before the final rule is enacted, the FAA would develop and scope standards for direct broadcast and network publishing to implement the ID and tracking measures. Third, once the final rule is enacted, UAS manufacturers and remote pilots would have a grace period to comply with the new requirements to carry out retrofit on UAS in the United States.

Conclusion

Although the ARC did not reach consensus, particularly on ID and tracking methods, it identified, analyzed, and recommended several ID and tracking requirements to implement. It also raised valuable solutions and options for the FAA to consider to meet its safety, security, and policy mandate to integrate drones into the NAS.