DJI’s VP of Policy and Legal Affairs, Brendan Schulman talks about the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Congress and how new upcoming regulations may impact hobbyist drone pilots. Brendan has been part of the Aviation Rule Making Committee (ARC) to create a report with recommendations for the FAA. This report addresses among other things, remote identification. Brendan is also working with other stakeholders from the manned aviation world, the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) and DJI customers on a proposal for Congress to create an online test or tutorial for recreational drone pilots and to prevent section 336 from being repealed.

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The FAA and Congress

During the AUVSI Xponential in Denver, CO this week, I had the chance to catch up with DJI’s VP of Policy and Legal Affairs, Brendan Schulman and talk about the upcoming changes in regulation for the recreational or hobbyist drone pilot. The three main components that are discussed in the interview are the FAA and remote ID, Congress and Section 336, and the importance of education for the uninformed drone pilot, i.e. the clueless or careless as the FAA likes to call them.

The FAA and remote ID

The FAA has been working on remote ID for unmanned aircraft because governments and security agencies need to know who is flying a drone to be able to determine if it is a threat or not. Or in the situation of a careless drone pilot, to simply have a conversation with them and explain why they should not fly their drone at that location or during that time of day.

Brendan has been part of the Aviation Rule Making Committee last summer to create a report to identify different technological solutions for drone identification and policy considerations, that for instance deal with privacy concerns. The report is to advise the FAA on what the best solution would be. In the next few months, the FAA is expected to come up with a final solution based on this advice as the agency is under pressure from other departments such as the Department of Homeland Security to implement a solution soon.

In the meantime, DJI has pushed forward a low-cost broadcasting solution to help identify the majority of drones on the market, called DJI Aeroscope. This system taps into the broadcast that is sent out from the drone and allows any law enforcement agency with a receiver to quickly identify the drone, its altitude, speed and heading as well as the pilot and his or her location. DJI’s Aeroscope was introduced late last year and is currently being used by a few airports and local law enforcement agencies around the world.

Brendan tells us that Aeroscope is being very well received because it works with the majority of drones right now. The system is minimally burdensome and requires no additional cost on the side of the user. It uses the existing broadcasting system that is already available on most DJI drones.

Airports or law enforcement agencies can simply purchase an Aeroscope receiver to monitor their local airspace. No need for new infrastructure, no burden to maintain a network system. It also prevents any privacy concerns pilots may have because their personal information and flight data is not permanently stored on a government server somewhere.

One of the benefits of Aeroscope, as we pointed out before, is that the system provides information on the drone and provides the location of the drone pilot. DJI’s Aeroscope is a solution that will help today even before the FAA or other governments will come up with new mandates.

A DJI Aeroscope receiver at the introduction of the system last year in Washington, D.C.

Congress and Section 336

Six years ago, Congress passed a law, promoted by the AMA, which said that the FAA should not create new regulations for model aircraft to protect the innovation and the community of model aircraft pilots, that is already, and has been for decades, operating model aircraft safely.

Six years later though, after the dramatic increase of recreational drone pilots, many governments and law enforcement officials have expressed concerns about who exactly qualifies as a hobbyist drone pilot, and what is a community-based organization, such as the AMA? What does it really mean to have a framework like that?

Brendan tells us, it requires clarification in part because we need solutions like remote identification to apply broadly and many people are frustrated that there is a statute in place that prevents the FAA from regulating hobbyist drone pilots. He continues to say that, some people have called to repeal section 336 but that is not realistic, because it would require hobbyist drone pilots to apply for a Part 107 license. People are simply not going to an airport or test center to take a complicated test.

Brendan has been working with the AMA and other stakeholders to find out what should that reasonable outcome be, without having to scrap Section 336. He says that if we need a regulatory framework for drones, let’s protect the things that need protection. For instance, knowledge testing is important. DJI has a built-in knowledge test in DJI Go 4 app.

The proposal Brendan is working on is to have some knowledge tutorial but to have that easily accessible online and also to have other protections to make sure the FAA does not go overboard with regulations. He continues to say:

“We don’t need 336 if the end result of 336 is basically people operating safely under a reasonable set of rules.”

Brendan is working hard with stakeholders in the manned aviation world, the AMA, and DJI customers to try to propose this to Congress. Hopefully, by the time the FAA reauthorization bill comes into law, there will be a good framework for regulating drones, including recreational drones and also protection for those community-based organization frameworks where people are operating drones safely with a minimum of regulation maybe just registration.

The importance of education

As we have seen recently in Germany, education is very important and can help to reduce the number of drone incidents. Brendan says that DJI is a strong proponent of educational tools and they have recently introduced the DJI Knowledge Test to improve awareness among DJI customers. Brendan says:

“Almost everybody wants to fly safely and responsibly. They sometimes don’t know what that means.”

A better understanding of the basic aviation rules for drones may well result in fewer incidents and ultimately less restrictive drone regulations for recreational pilots.

You can see the entire conversation in the video below.

What do you think about drone regulations for hobbyist and recreational pilots. Let us know in the comments below.

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