Wyoming Drone Pilots Have Concerns About Proposed FAA Rules

in News/Technology

By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Several Wyoming drone pilots are expressing some concerns about proposed FAA rules that would require drones to broadcast user ID information.

While the pilots said they were generally open to the idea proposed as a way to improve the safety of drone operations, they also expressed concern about invasion of privacy and whether all drones could handle the technical requirements of the new rules.

“(A)s far as airspace usage, drones are safe, there have only been three confirmed incidents of drone and aircraft collisions,” said Nathan Rogers, a commercial drone pilot for Noetic Creative, a company that operates drones in Wyoming. “I find my pilot information being publicly available to be an invasion of my privacy, plus, none of the drones I currently fly would work with this system.”

Unmanned Aerial Systems, or UAS, are most commonly used for aerial photography by hobbyists, but a growing number are used commercially. The most commonly used drones are defined by the FAA as “…an unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds on takeoff…” 

However, drones can be large or small and used for many purposes. In Wyoming, commercial uses range from oil rig and pipeline inspection to ranching and livestock inspection. Realtors sometimes use drones commercially to take aerial pictures of their listings. 

With the growing number of drones in the skies, it is the FAA’s aim to adopt rules that would make the operation of any drone safer for all. 

Currently, all drones weighing more than 249 grams — about one-half pound — need to be registered with the FAA via its website, faadronezone.faa.gov Additionally, UAS used by commercial pilots fall under a section of FAA rules referred to as “Part 107” that require an operator to obtain a special license and undergo testing.

The newly proposed regulations, which would affect both commercial and recreational drone operators, state that all UAS flown in U.S. airspace would be required to be equipped with remote ID systems. These systems would broadcast information about the drone’s owner, as well as the aircraft’s and controller’s location, to anyone equipped to receive the remote ID broadcast. 

The proposal has generated heated debate nationally. One of the points of debate is whether the public should have access to the same remote ID broadcasts that would be available to law enforcement.

Also proposed are regulations that would require all drones operate with a WiFi or cellular connection to broadcast the ID. Wyoming’s cellular service can be spotty at times and some pilots fear this would ground any drone trying to operate in remote locations. 

Andrew Ruben, a commercial drone operator and owner of Wild Sky in Cheyenne, has perspective on the regulations as both a commercial operator and a first responder. As a volunteer with Laramie County Fire District No. 2, Ruben uses his drone experience for search and rescue work as well as firefighting operations. 

Ruben said he supports the idea of a remote ID for drones because it would promote safe drone operation.

However, he added technical limitations could cause problems with putting the rule into effect.

“I just have questions about its implementation, and the issues of rural places that have lower connectivity, especially when I think about first responders working in those areas,” he said. “The biggest question I have is how this would affect firefighters and law enforcement that are using drones to support their operational objective.” 

Drone sales are on the rise nationwide. According to an FAA report, drone sales could triple by 2023. (https://www.faa.gov/data_research/aviation/aerospace_forecasts/media/FY2019- 39_FAA_Aerospace_Forecast.pdf) Whether it’s a hobbyist taking vacation photos, Amazon delivering Internet purchase or a first responder keeping people safe, it is likely an increasing number of drones will share the skies of Wyoming in the future. 

These FAA regulations are in the proposal stage and are currently open for public comment until March 2, 2020. If you would like to read the proposed regulations, and leave your comment, visit https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/12/31/2019-28100/remote-identification-of-unmanned- aircraft-systems 

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