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FAA Releases Drone ID And Tracking Recommendations

Nov 8, 2016
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Northern Ontario Canada
Dec 20, 2017 Bill Carey | Aviation Daily
WASHINGTON—The FAA will craft a proposed regulation from the recommendations of a broad-based advisory group that met this summer to consider ways to remotely identify and track drones. However, the group ultimately could not agree on a weight or capability threshold that would trigger the tracking requirement.

The group identified several technologies that small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) could use to transmit their positions, either by direct broadcast for local reception or through a network.

The agency released the final report of its UAS Identification and Tracking aviation rulemaking committee (ARC) on Dec. 19. The 74-member ARC, whose members represent industry, trade groups, standards organizations and law enforcement agencies, met four times as a full committee from June through September.

“Overall, the ARC provided the FAA with a substantial amount of useful data, including very detailed technology evaluations and a comprehensive list of law enforcement needs and preferences,” the agency stated. “[W]hile the ARC reached consensus on most issues, there were dissenting opinions, primarily over which drones the ID and tracking requirements should apply.” Many dissenting opinions, the FAA noted, expressed concern that exempting recreational drones and model aircraft from an ID and tracking requirement would undermine its value.

The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, an ARC participant, sought white papers from industry on technology solutions for remote identification and tracking of drones. It received 53 white papers, which then were analyzed by the MITRE Center for Advanced Aviation System Development. The process generated eight proposals for technology alternatives, which fell into two broad categories as either direct-broadcast or “network-publishing” solutions for position reporting.

Direct-broadcast alternatives include:

•Automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast.

•Low-power direct radio frequency (RF) using unlicensed spectrum.

•“Unlicensed integrated C2” using modulated ID and tracking packets on existing, unlicensed command-and-control channels.

•Visual light-encoding using light-emitting diodes sending coded information that a visual sensor would decode.

Cellular networks using licensed spectrum, satellite-tracking services and software-based flight-notification applications with telemetry data are lumped together as network-publishing options. Through these, a drone would transmit data to an internet service or federated service that would make identification and tracking information available to clients such as an air traffic control facility or a public safety organization.

The ARC recommended a three-tiered approach to meeting identification and tracking requirements. It specified that the first tier of drones would be able either to directly broadcast their positions to nearby compatible receivers or network-publish via the internet. These would be drones that do not qualify for any exemption to tracking requirements, or those conducting routine commercial operations under the FAA’s Part 107 regulation.

Second-tier drones—such as those conducting waivered operations that deviate from Part 107 rules—would be required to report their positions via both direct-broadcast locally and network-publishing. Third-tier drones would be subject to Part 91 rules for manned aircraft. They would include drones weighing more than 55 lb.—which is beyond the scope of Part 107—and those operating beyond the pilot’s visual line of sight, in IFR conditions or in controlled airspace.

Reacting to the release of the final report, leading small-drone manufacturer DJI said the ARC recommends mandatory adoption of a local, direct-broadcast mechanism for position reporting, but does not call for a mandatory internet-based network system. The AeroScope tracking system DJI unveiled in October represents a direct-broadcast system. It uses the existing RF link between a drone and its hand controller to broadcast identification and basic telemetry information to AeroScope receivers.

“While a networked system would likely force drone pilots to pay for wireless data service on every drone, a local broadcast mechanism imposes the least cost on manufacturers and no cost on drone users,” DJI said.

According to the ARC final report, 34 committee members concurred with the recommendations as written; 20 concurred, but with exceptions; eight dissented; and 12 did not respond. Among the dissenters was the Commercial Drone Alliance, which objected to exempting model aircraft from the ID and tracking requirement. The General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Aerospace Industries Association, National Agricultural Aviation Association, X (formerly Google X), General Electric, uAvionix, Ford Motor Co., AirMap and General Atomics joined in the dissent. Those entities “firmly oppose any such carve-out for model aircraft and hobbyists. This exemption is a loophole that swallows the rule,” they stated in the report.

The dissenters also called for a weight-based threshold for triggering the tracking requirement, suggesting any drone or model aircraft weighing 250 grams (8.8 oz.) or more should comply. That is the same weight the FAA set when it created a national registry of drone owners in December 2015, only to have a federal appellate court invalidate it earlier this year. However, the fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act that President Donald Trump signed into law on Dec. 12 restores the drone registry.

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