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Written by Chad Budreau
View from HQ
As seen in the December 2018 issue of
Model Aviation.

In late September, I posted a video outlining that the U.S. Department of Defense, the FAA, and large corporations were asking for our members to remotely identify their model aircraft. I want to use this opportunity to paint a better picture about what remote identification could mean.

Some have described remote identification as a license plate for cars, but instead the identification is broadcast from our models like a beacon or is transmitted to a central database. The FAA is asking for remote identification to help manned aircraft and airports identify drones and models sharing the airspace.

Law enforcement and defense agencies want to identify operators who are flying in an unsafe manner, such as flying near wildfires. Commercial entities are asking for remote identification so that their autonomous drones can detect and avoid other drones or models in the airspace.

Last year, AMA participated in the FAA’s Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) advisory panel, which made recommendations for creating standards for remote identification of UAS. The ARC identified technologies to allow law enforcement, homeland defense, national security, and air traffic control communities to remotely identify UAS in the airspace.

AMA believes that remote identification for certain models makes sense at some level, depending on their sophistication and capability. One recommendation, championed by AMA, would create a risk-based threshold. It suggested that remote identification should only apply to UAS that have the capability of flying autonomously—by navigating between more than one point without active control by the pilot. This would mean that high-risk UAS would comply with remote identification and low-risk model aircraft that are incapable of autonomous or long-range operations would not have to comply with remote identification.

Traditional model airplanes, helicopters, and similar aircraft that are found at AMA flying sites are only capable of being flown within line of sight of the operator or spotter. Not only do these line-of-sight models pose less risk, but the operators are easily identified. When you see the model, you can quickly find its operator holding a transmitter a few hundred feet away.

Unfortunately, many disagreed with AMA’s approach. An alternative recommendation was proposed to mandate that all models must comply with remote identification, to include toys, traditional model aircraft, helicopters, and sophisticated drones. My daughter once owned a flying Tinkerbell doll that had a lifespan of a few months. Even this toy would be required to comply with remote identification.

Mandating that everything that flies is to comply with remote identification requirements is unrealistic and will create a culture of noncompliance because many operators will ignore the overreaching rule. Additionally, AMA cannot agree to a blanket mandate of remote identification because no one has provided a viable solution. Our members want to be safe and responsible, but how can a rubber band-powered competition model comply with remote identification?

During the ARC meeting, various solutions were proposed for how to implement remote identification, including that UAS must include a beacon or chip to transmit data to a central database.

Since the ARC panel meeting, other solutions that are under consideration could allow operators to remotely identify their location by pushing a button on an app. Before you fly a Cub or heli in your backyard, you would open an app to indicate that you are using the national airspace system for a set amount of time. This would alert manned aircraft pilots and others to detect and avoid your model.

There are also talks that operations at AMA flying fields would satisfy the remote identification requirement and would not require a beacon or app-based solution.

Although these are some of the more viable solutions, AMA will continue to argue that remote identification is overreaching and unnecessary for toys and models not designed to fly beyond visual line of sight.

Let’s revisit the analogy I shared in my second paragraph: Every car on the road must have a license plate, therefore everything that flies must be remotely identified. Although every car on the road must have a license plate, not everything on the road requires a Bureau of Motor Vehicles- (BMV) issued plate.

On my drive to AMA Headquarters, I regularly pass bicyclists, farm equipment, and other vehicles that don’t have BMV-issued license plates. Only more capable and sophisticated vehicles (cars and trucks) require license plates. Likewise, only more-capable, sophisticated UAS should require remote identification.

-Chad Budreau

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