Be Heard: DJI’s Tips for Commenting on the FAA’s Proposed Remote ID Rule

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed far-reaching new Remote Identification rules that will affect how drones are designed, produced and used. This proposal would require almost all drones in America to connect to a computer network service in order to fly legally, which the FAA anticipates will require recurring monthly fees for drone users. The full Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) is available at this link.

The FAA’s rule would have a dramatic effect on how many Americans use drones, so now is the time to learn what it would mean for you — and how you can make your voice heard. Before the FAA implements this rule, it is required by law to solicit and consider comments from the public in response to its proposal. The public comment process is a crucial aspect of rulemaking in the United States, enabling those who will be impacted by regulations to shape them before they are final. Filing comments with the FAA is worth your time and effort, but they must be received by March 2, 2020.

DJI is preparing its comments as the world’s leading manufacturer of personal and professional drones, with the interests of our customers central in mind. Because Remote ID is something that could impose ongoing costs and burdens on users and potentially compromise their privacy, the proposal will impact our customers more than it will impact our company. We are also concerned about the impact on our peers at other companies, including those developing applications and software that put drones to their best use.

So the FAA needs to hear from you, the American innovators, entrepreneurs, artists, public safety leaders, teachers, students, and explorers of this still-new technology. To help you make the most of this opportunity to shape regulations that will impact you every time you use a drone, DJI has prepared this guide to writing and submitting your own effective comments.

You Can Make a Difference

While it’s easy to be cynical about government and feel that your time writing comments will be a waste, experience shows that thoughtful, constructive comments make a real difference. For example, when the FAA proposed the Part 107 rules for commercial operations, the maximum proposed altitude was 400 feet above ground level. In response to public comments, the FAA changed that rule to allow for flight 400 feet above a structure. This change expanded the scope of permissible Part 107 operations to include inspections of tall buildings and other structures that are taller than 400 feet.

When your comment presents facts, logical arguments, and information about how to reach a better result while fulfilling important safety and security goals, you can be persuasive. For some of you, this is the third time you are commenting on an FAA proposal for drone regulation. But you can make a difference even if this is your first time.

Consult Resources and Colleagues Online

The FAA’s proposal is lengthy and complex, so it is helpful to seek the perspectives of others like you, to understand how it may impact you. We recommend you discuss and confer with colleagues and community resources, including social media and online forums, where we see people exchanging their own suggestions and advice. For example, the Alliance for Drone Innovation has issued its perspectives on some aspects of the proposal that impact today’s innovative operations. Similarly, the Pilot Institute has published a summary of concerns for commenters. The federal government also provides these general suggestions for filing comments on any regulatory proposal.

Although seeking out ideas online is helpful, cut-and-paste comment campaigns are typically far less effective than creating your own personal and specific comment. We recommend that you not just cut and paste what you might find online, but rather take the time to write your own, or make use of templates you find to inspire more specific personal perspectives. The FAA must hear about the impact of this proposal from those who are already using drone technologies. Make sure to tell other people you know in the industry to get involved too.

A Short List of Steps

Below are our own tips and suggestions for how to write and file your own effective comment.  To summarize, your comment should at a minimum cover these things:

  1. Who are you and what do you do (or want to do) with drones?
  2. How are you impacted, and by which requirements or restrictions? Be specific.
  3. What’s a better or less burdensome way to achieve the same goal?
  4. Answer the FAA’s specific questions that affect you.
  5. Don’t forget to comment on the aspects you support.

Start Your Comment by Telling the FAA About Yourself and Your Use of Drones

If you are reading this, you are probably someone who does amazing things with drones or model airplanes. We’ve met teachers of a middle school STEM program that uses drones; volunteer firefighters who bring their drones to work to save lives; independent real estate agents who use their flying cameras for inexpensive aerial photography; model aircraft enthusiasts who have been building models from kits for decades; and even a large energy company planning to deploy a drone fleet to reduce the risk of climbing towers.

Whoever you are, and whatever you do, explain to the FAA the value you and your students or customers receive from your operation of drones. You should also explain any plans for expanding your use of drones, for example, if you are a recreational user who plans to start commercial operations.

Explain the Impact of the Proposal on You

You may already have strong feelings about the proposal, but the FAA needs to know why. How will this proposal negatively impact you?  Which provisions are of the most significant concern? Will it cost you more money?  How so? Will the proposal curtail your enthusiasm or use of drones and other remote-controlled aircraft? Do you anticipate that you will have fewer products to choose from in the market? Will you have to give up building drones or model aircraft from “almost ready to fly” kits that you fly in your own yard, farm, or nearby parklands? Give specific examples and detail wherever possible.

For example, the FAA is proposing to change the recreational registration framework so that instead of paying $5 per person, registration will cost $5 per drone. If you have 20 drones to register, this will cost $100 just to be able to fly them occasionally. Cost data is particularly useful to the FAA because it is required to provide an economic analysis of its proposed requirements.

Take Time to Understand the FAA’s Goals, and Propose Better Solutions

The FAA has been working on this Remote ID proposal for about two years. It is based on significant work to identify goals and propose solutions, taking into consideration various competing stakeholders, including within the United States government. Security agencies legitimately need solutions to identifying drones in the air, and that means that comments that simply oppose the entire idea of Remote ID are not helpful.

In the NPRM, you will find the FAA’s explanation for its goals and objectives, then the FAA’s proposal for requirements and rules to satisfy those goals, and an explanation for why it chose those requirements. The most effective comments will propose a different way of achieving the FAA’s goals that are less burdensome or problematic from your point of view, with an explanation of why it is a better choice when all interests are considered. If you cannot think of an alternative method, you could just explain why the FAA’s reasons are incomplete, misinformed, or flawed, but try to think of alternatives that would be more acceptable to you even if they are still not ideal. An improved regulation is better than nothing.

For example, if you have identified the pros and cons of the two main types of Remote ID indicated by the FAA (broadcast and network), you could indicate which you believe works better for you, or share that you would like to have a choice. Explain why this approach would be better for you.

As part of this discussion, consider that it is important to achieve a high rate of compliance for Remote ID. What are the ways to increase the likelihood that you will comply with the requirements, for example, by making the Remote ID requirements more flexible, less expensive, or easier to accomplish with fewer steps? Do you worry that you or others might be motivated to purchase or custom-build non-compliant drones to avoid costs that seem excessive in relation to the benefits?

Look for the FAA’s Direct Questions to You

The FAA asks very specific questions in some locations. (For example, “The FAA solicits comments on whether the proposed 12-month deadline for applying for an FAA-recognized identification area should be extended.”) This usually indicates that the FAA may not be entirely sure of its proposed requirements and is particularly receptive to public comments. You can quickly find these questions in the NPRM document by electronically searching for the word “comment,” which is typically part of phrases like “the FAA welcomes comments,” “the FAA requests comments,” or “the FAA seeks specific comments.”

If these specific questions impact you or raise concerns about the variety of drone equipment you will be able to build or buy in the future, or where you can fly drones, be sure to answer them. A lack of answers to these specific questions could lead the FAA to conclude that there is little interest or concern about the point, and the final FAA outcome could be uninformed and less than ideal for you.

Don’t Forget to Support Things You Like

It is human nature to focus on what concerns you and what you want to change.  But it is essential to provide comments about aspects of the FAA proposal that you like or support. Given the sensationalized environment drones are in, there are likely to be drone detractors who submit comments saying that the FAA’s proposal is not strict enough and should be even more limiting or burdensome. This is a reason to support aspects of the FAA’s proposal that work well and make sense.

For example, you may want to support the FAA’s proposed steps to keep personally identifiable information of drone pilots private, something that DJI has asserted and advocated for beginning in its March 2017 white paper on Remote ID. Your comment on this point could also be a mix of support and concern. For example, you may like that the FAA will be the repository of registration data (rather than service providers), but you might be concerned that the proposal is not clear on how and when law enforcement and other government agencies can access that information.

As another example, you may also wish to support the FAA’s three-year staged implementation timing, in order to give yourself time to more fully exhaust the value of, and then replace, older models if you are an operator, or to change your product designs if you are a manufacturer. There will undoubtedly be others submitting comments advocating to shorten this period, which would be challenging for many reasons that are not understood by those who actually develop and operate the broad range of impacted technologies.

How to File Your Comment

You can submit your comment online by pasting the text into the official website or uploading an attachment, such as a Word or PDF document. We strongly suggest you first work offline, drafting your comment in a document you can save and revise before submitting it before the March 2, 2020 deadline. When you are ready, follow this link to submit your comment.

Thank you for your time and effort on this, on behalf of all who care about drone innovation.