Today Drone Labs submitted its comments for Docket Number FAA-2015-0150 as well as providing comments concerning the UAS Fund Petition (FAA-2015-0150-0014). The comments are reproduced below for interested parties.
Drone Labs is a Limited Liability Company located in Austin, Texas. The company manufactures and sells a product called Drone Detector® which is a drone countermeasure tool specifically focused on Small and Micro Unmanned Aircraft Systems as well as Model Aircraft. Drone Labs has extensive experience detecting and addressing UAS misuse which makes the company qualified to offer a unique perspective on the proposed rules. The comments below are based on the accumulation of data from observation and customer feedback.
Drone Labs believes the societally beneficial applications of these aircraft offer advantages to humanity that will be realized for decades to come. No logical mind can look at the benefits gained thus far and not recognize this potential. Like any tool, the ability to benefit the public also comes with the ability to cause harm if misused.
It should be noted that, unlike conventional aircraft, any rules created by the FAA for Small and Micro UAS’s as well as Model Aircraft can be easily circumvented by those with malicious intent. There are no FAA mechanisms in place, for example, to keep a determined person from flying their UAS over an airport or to detect that an incursion has even occurred. Therefore, we propose that emphasis be placed on adequate punishment for rule violations to deter further incidents.
An apt comparative example would be laser pointers. At their inception they were seen merely as an annoyance but, over time, they became a real danger to public safety. Ultimately, pointing a laser at an aircraft was considered interference with a crewmember covered under 14 C.F.R. §91.11. There are severe penalties for using a toy to endanger public safety. Small and Micro drones as well as Model Aircraft must be subject to equally severe penalties for intentional misuse.
For operators that follow the rules, Drone Labs finds the new proposal to be a much needed step in the right direction. As regards the proposed rules we fully support adoption immediately with exceptions noted below.
Drone Labs has observed that the technology is sufficient enough to obviate the need for VLOS. Software and wireless networking have advanced to the point that operators can use first-person view (FPV) capabilities to meet the same, if not better, “see and avoid” requirements set out in §91.113(b). The FAA seems focused on miniaturizing conventional systems whereas using FPV technology would, in a virtual sense, put the operator in the pilot seat of the UAS.
Many commercial activities take place at night. Drone Labs feels that imposing restrictions on Small and/or Micro UAS that don’t apply even to Model Aircraft violates a fundamental sense of fairness. With proper lighting attached to the UAS, night flight can be achieved quite easily and would allow greater freedom for commercial activity. For example, a news reporter may endure an opportunity cost due to missed revenue by not flying at night. If the FAA goal is to promote commerce, this limitation would create an unnecessary commercial roadblock.
Given the propensity for public endangerment is far less with Small and/or Micro UAS than piloted aircraft the requirement of testing every two years seems excessive. Drone Labs suggests extending the time to 5 years and/or making the test available online to ease recertification.
While aircraft markings make sense for conventional aircraft they are much less useful for Small UAS and, especially, Micro UAS. The numbers are simply too small to read and the pilot can easily reposition the UAS to ensure the numbers aren’t facing a person who may be looking for them. The only time the markings would be useful is when a crashed drone was recovered so an identification of the owner could be made.
In addition to (or instead of) markings on the aircraft Drone Labs suggests mini-transponders be required for all commercial UAS. This will have the ability to embed information into the transponder on the UAS as well as the potential for increasing public safety by being able to track them.
As noted in the General Comments the focus for intentional violations of the rules should be on adequate punishment to deter future incidents. As the number of recreational UAV’s grow there will be a growing percentage of the population using them to break the law. Engaging in well publicized punishments early on will help deter this pattern.
Drone Labs agrees with the proposed rules for Micro UAS set forth by the UAS Fund Petition except as noted below.
With regard to §107.7(b) Drone Labs feels that Micro UAS should also be equipped with some type of transponder to encapsulate the name, address, telephone number, and other related information for use as needed for public safety. Putting some minimum identifying information on the body would be desirable as well.
As previously noted, Drone Labs believes restricting flight to daytime only places an undue economic burden on some operators. Refer to Operational Limitations, Daylight Only Operations above for details on our position.
Drone Labs disagrees with §107.13(b) requiring visual line-of-sight. See Operational Limitations, Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) above.
Concerning §107.19(b) consideration should be given to a tiered testing approach to reflect the fact Micro UAS pose less of a danger to public safety than Small UAS. The certifications should scale up in complexity as the danger to public safety rises and, correspondingly, scale down as the danger to public safety decreases.
With the exceptions noted above Drone Labs supports the implementation of the proposed rules for Small and Micro UAS. In our experience bad actors are going to violate the rules regardless. Therefore the rules should be lightweight and agile with ability to respond to the changes in emerging UAS technology. Simple rules make it easy for law abiding operators to adhere to the rules and provide clear lines of demarcation for identifying violators.