Drone Pilot Safety Act

By | October 4, 2022

People are greatly concerned about their safety when flying drones. Drones are getting shot down. People are getting physically attacked. People are even threatening pilots with firearms. I’m greatly concerned about the safety of drone pilots out there and you should be as well. See Mark 12:31 (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself[.]”).

I thought I should do something about it so I decided to draft a proposed piece of legislation so that the drone community, organically, could go to their elected officials and get the law passed. While I started working on this proposed law, I realized that other important things should be added to protect drone pilots.

Please note I’m doing this for free in my free time and we have a newborn. If I made any mistakes, please contact me.


Why Is The Drone Pilot Safety Act Important Now?

The deadline for drone operators to comply with remote identification is coming up in September 2023. Unfortunately, we were not successful in getting the remote ID regulations struck down in the RaceDayQuads lawsuit. Here is what the law says:

§ 89.105 Remote identification requirement.

Except as otherwise authorized by the Administrator or as provided in § 89.120, after September 16, 2023, no person may operate an unmanned aircraft within the airspace of the United States unless the operation meets the requirements of § 89.110 or § 89.115.

Importantly, broadcast module identification transmits the take-off location of the drone, and standard identification broadcasts in real time the ground controller location.

The FAA designed this so that it would be easy for anyone with a phone, laptop, Wifi router to detect and receive these signals.

Unfortunately, you can see that the pilot will be a sitting duck for any angry crazy person, redneck with a shotgun, criminal, etc. to come over and harass. It’s completely inconsistent how the FAA goes to great lengths to protect manned aircraft pilots from unruly passengers or prevent people from accessing the cockpit but leaves drone pilots as sitting ducks. It’s kinda hard to fly a drone safely when you are getting harassed or attacked.


Real-Life Examples of Why We Need This Act Passed

Keep in mind that ALL of these events happened prior to remote identification broadcasts AND while there are all sorts of laws on the books attempting to prevent these types of events. Imagine what WILL happen.

  • From the RaceDayQuads opening brief, “A “significant number” of commenters raised the concern that the rule actually increases safety risks. Specifically, giving a drone controller’s location or the takeoff location to the public poses a safety risk to the operator. . . . Their concerns were not mere hypotheticals; commenters pointed to documented attacks on remote pilots and also expressed fear of home invasion and theft of their equipment. [O]ne of them assaulted me . . . and yelled in my face and distracted me causing to crash my drone; while the other stole my drone controller and cell phone out of my hand and beat me up when I attempted to grab it back. I was only saved from serious injury because an off-duty police officer happened to be nearby and intervened to stop the beating.”
  • Woman attacks teen for operating a drone.

But Don’t We Already Have Laws on the Books Prevent Attacks?

Yes, there are laws on the books but they haven’t prevented attacks in the past.  Furthermore, we could modify some of the laws on the books so that they can be used to protect drone pilots… as they do for manned aircraft pilots in the sky.  Moreover, there are also some issues with preemption which can cause some legislatures to pause in creating laws protecting drone pilots as well as cause pause for prosecutors in prosecuting these types of cases for fear of a cleaver criminal defense attorney exploiting federal preemption to prevent a successful conviction of the defendant.

The proposal down below will (1) seek to make the ground controller location message encrypted to prevent attacks and (2) clarify and strengthen the ability to criminalize and successfully prosecute attackers.


Is The FAA Going to Do Anything About This?

No. We clearly showed the FAA’s position in the RaceDayQuads opening brief,

FAA “acknowledge[d] the concerns… regarding personal safety,” but dismissed them with the conclusory statement “there are rules against interfering with an aircraft” and based on FAA’s belief that these issues are better tackled by “community outreach and other precautions.” JA 30. The “rules against interfering” have been in effect for years and have done nothing to deter or prevent any of the attacks cited by commenters. To conclude that existing rules, which have not prevented past assaults, will somehow have a deterrent effect now is utterly groundless. Such unreasoned justification for FAA’s decision is arbitrary and capricious. See EDF v. EPA, 922 F.3d 464, 456 (D.C.Cir. 2019).

Additionally, FAA cannot create valid safety concerns and disavow responsibility for them by vague reference to “community outreach” as the appropriate remedy. . . . Who will do this supposed community outreach? What safety data supports this as a viable solution? The FAA never put any supporting data in the record. Operating from a controlled location, the other precaution suggested by FAA, is often not feasible and FAA gave no indication of what could be done to make it so.

The FAA proposed and finalized the remote ID rules so unencrypted messages of the ground controller location go out. They are not going to change anything or look out for you.

But at the end of the day, FAA is not in charge. We are. We elect senators and congressmen. They can pass laws. If Congress tells the FAA to do something, they should. If they don’t, we can sue for the courts to compel the FAA to act according to what Congress has passed.

It’s time for you and me to take safety into our own hands and get our elected officials to pass this safety act.


How Can I Get My Elected Official To Pass The Drone Pilot Safety Act?

  1. Find your elected officials. https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials
  2. Consider scheduling a meeting with your elected official and/or also writing them a letter.
    • If you go in person, please prepare and explain the reasons why you are greatly concerned and what you plan on doing if your elected official does not support this proposal.
    • You can mail in a letter but I would suggest just electronically submitting it. Go to your elected official’s website and there is typically somewhere on the page that says help with a federal agency. Click here and submit the form. If you are planning on doing this with all of your elected officials, draft the letter and then quickly send it to all your elected officials. For bonus points, schedule an in-person meeting to follow up on the letter!
  3. Tell your friends, co-workers, and club members so they can do likewise.
  4. Consider reaching out to organizations such as the Academy of Model Aeronautics, AUVSI, companies, social media influencers, Facebook admins, etc. and asking them to back this. If they do not, you might want to communicate to them the consequences of doing so such as canceling sponsorships/membership, communicating to other members and sponsors about the lack of support, putting on social media or on Facebook groups about the lack of support, etc.

POINT 1. Congress Must Direct the FAA to Create Regulations to Encrypt Ground Controller Location Messages

FAA said in the final rule,

Many commenters suggested the FAA modify the proposed regulation to allow for the control station location to only be available to specific entities such as the FAA and law enforcement. Though some commenters suggested using encryption techniques to accomplish this, the FAA finds that implementation of such a nuanced requirement would be highly complex, costly, and impractical. The FAA does not intend to limit who can receive the broadcast messages, and allowing encryption of certain message elements would limit who can receive the broadcast messages only to those with the capability to decrypt the messages. Allowing encryption is inconsistent with the FAA’s policy that the remote identification message elements should be publicly available information. Further, as some commenters suggested, different situations may necessitate certain emergency responders or other individuals to make contact with a remote pilot. In these situations, a privacy or encryption implementation may prohibit the on-scene individuals from having the critically needed information. In addition, an encryption requirement would present technical challenges leading to increased cost and complexity. For example, encryption key management could require standard remote identification unmanned aircraft, broadcast modules, and authorized receivers to have internet connectivity and specialized software, increasing the cost of this rule and potentially creating cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Therefore, the FAA adopts the control station location requirement as proposed.

Congress must clearly direct the FAA that flyers should have the safety option of broadcasting the controller location or take-off location out in the open or encrypted so only FAA and law enforcement can decrypt. The pilot chooses the safest option which may choose to encrypt so as to prevent the attack. Even if there are additional costs, they will be carried by the flyer who can make the choice whether to purchase an unmanned aircraft with these safety capabilities or not. FAA cannot throw their hands up in the air and cry, “highly complex, costly, and impractical” and deprive the public of this safety feature. Proposed language:

It is the sense of Congress that the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Adminisration shall provide individuals with the safety option of encrypting the ground controller location or take-off location so only FAA and  law enforcement can decrypt.  Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration shall promulgate a final regulation for the encryption of the ground controller location or the take-off location. After [date of 180 days after enactment], the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration may only require operators of unmanned aircraft to transmit location information only if the Federal Aviation Administration has already promulgated this final rule.  No enforcement action for a failure to broadcast may commennce until this final rule is properly promulgated. The Administrator failing to promulgate a rule is considered an “agency action” under 5 USC 551(13)) and an “order” for 49 USC 46110. An agrieved party may petition for writ of mandamus from a court of competent jurisdiction. A failure to peition the FAA for rulemaking is not a prerequirsite to petition a court. A failure by the Administrator to promulgate a notice of proposed rulemaking is considered reasonable grounds for the agrieved party in not making an objection. The lack of a final rule is considered an injury for purposes of a standing anlysis of any agrieved party. The reviewing court shall liberally presume the agrieved party has prudential standing and not use standing as a means to deprive a party of justice.


POINT 2. Change 18 USC 32 So It Protects Drones In The Air

Here is 18 USC Section 32 with important language in bold,

(a)Whoever willfully—(1)sets fire to, damages, destroys, disables, or wrecks any aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States . . . shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years or both.

49 USC 46501(2) says,

(2)“special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States” includes any of the following aircraft in flight: (A) a civil aircraft of the United States.

49 USC 46501(1) says,

(1)“aircraft in flight” means an aircraft from the moment all external doors are closed following boarding— (A)through the moment when one external door is opened to allow passengers to leave the aircraft; or (B)until, if a forced landing, competent authorities take over responsibility for the aircraft and individuals and property on the aircraft.

18 USC Section 32 prevents sending false information (such as jamming, spoofing radio signals, or false return to home signals) by saying,

(a)Whoever willfully— . . . (7)communicates information, knowing the information to be false and under circumstances in which such information may reasonably be believed, thereby endangering the safety of any such aircraft inflight . . . shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years or both.

And 18 USC 31(a)(4) says,

In flight.—The term “in flight” means—
(A)any time from the moment at which all the external doors of an aircraft are closed following embarkation until the moment when any such door is opened for disembarkation; and
(B)in the case of a forced landing, until competent authorities take over the responsibility for the aircraft and the persons and property on board.

A clever criminal attorney might argue that these laws do not apply since unmanned aircraft do not have external doors to be closed for boarding. Therefore, we need some language to fix this. Here is the proposed new language for 49 USC 46501(1) (bold italicized = added.  Strikesthrough=deleted):

(1)“aircraft in flight” means that for: 

(A) an unmanned aircraft from the moment the aircraft is powered on for flight through the moment when it is powered off; or 

(B) an manned aircraft from the moment all external doors are closed following boarding— (A i)through the moment when one external door is opened to allow passengers to leave the aircraft; or (Bii)until, if a forced landing, competent authorities take over responsibility for the aircraft and individuals and property on the aircraft.

Here is the proposed language for 18 USC 31(a)(4):

In flight.—The term “in flight” means that for:
(A) an unmanned aircraft from the moment the aircraft is powered on for flight through the moment when it is powered off; or 

(B) a manned aircraft – (i) any time from the moment at which all the external doors of an aircraft are closed following embarkation until the moment when any such door is opened for disembarkation; and
(Bii)in the case of a forced landing, until competent authorities take over the responsibility for the aircraft and the persons and property on board.


POINT 3. Change 18 USC 32 So It Protects Drone Pilots On The Ground

18 USC 32(6) says,

performs an act of violence against or incapacitates any individual on any such aircraft, if such act of violence or incapacitation is likely to endanger the safety of such aircraft . . . shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years or both.

We can fix this by changing it to:

performs an act of violence against or incapacitates any individual flying any such aircraft or on any such aircraft,


POINT 4. Change 49 USC 46504 to Address Ground Attacks

49 USC 46504 says,

An individual on an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States who, by assaulting or intimidating a flight crew member or flight attendant of the aircraft, interferes with the performance of the duties of the member or attendant or lessens the ability of the member or attendant to perform those duties, or attempts or conspires to do such an act, shall be fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than 20 years, or both. However, if a dangerous weapon is used in assaulting or intimidating the member or attendant, the individual shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life.

But what if that bad guy is on the ground and not ON an aircraft? Let’s change it to:

An individual on the ground or on an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States who, by assaulting or intimidating a flight crew member or flight attendant of the aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, interferes with the performance of the duties of the member or attendant or lessens the ability of the member or attendant to perform those duties, or attempts or conspires to do such an act, shall be fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than 20 years, or both. However, if a dangerous weapon is used in assaulting or intimidating the member or attendant, the individual shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life. A personal manipulating the controls of an unmanned aircraft is considered a flight crew member.


POINT 5. Express De-Preemption Regarding State Laws Criminalize Attacking Drone Pilots

There has been a lot said about preemption and whether state and local laws can regulate areas of aviation activity. See the Singer case for more details. However, we can bypass that legal minefield by getting Congress to pass an express provision stating what areas are NOT preempted. Congress has done this before.  49 USC 46306 says,

“(e)Relationship to State Laws.—This part does not prevent a State from establishing a criminal penalty, including providing for forfeiture and seizure of aircraft, for a person that—

(1)knowingly and willfully forges or alters an aircraft certificate of registration;

(2)knowingly sells, uses, attempts to use, or possesses with the intent to use, a fraudulent aircraft certificate of registration;

(3)knowingly and willfully displays or causes to be displayed on an aircraft a mark that is false or misleading about the nationality or registration of the aircraft;  or

(4)obtains an aircraft certificate of registration from the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration by—

(A)knowingly and willfully falsifying or concealing a material fact;

(B)making a false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement; or

(C)making or using a false document knowing it contains a false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry.”

Here is my proposal. We create a brand new 49 USC Section 44811 which says,

Relationship to State Laws.—Title 49 nor Title 18 prevents a State from establishing a criminal penalty for a person that—

(1)knowingly and willfully interferes, intimidates, threatens, assaults, or commits battery on a person who is part of the unmanned aircraft systems crew such as, but not limited to, the remote pilot in command, the person manipulating the controls, all visual observers, and all persons necessary for the safety for the flight; or

(2)knowingly interferes with, sets fire to, damages, destroys, disables, or wrecks any unmanned aircraft system.


POINT 6. Pilot’s Bill of Rights Shall Apply to All People

FAA Order 2150.3C says,

(1) The Pilot’s Bill of Rights (PBR), Public Law 112-153 (Aug. 3, 2012), as amended by Public Law 115-254 (Oct. 5, 2018), requires investigative personnel to provide airmen who are the subject of an investigation with timely PBR notification, i.e., written notice of the investigation, unless the notification would threaten the integrity of the investigation, as discussed in paragraph 4.b.(5), below. PBR notification is not required to be provided when the apparent violator is not the holder of an airman certificate (or the apparent violation cannot result in legal enforcement action against an airman certificate). For purposes of the PBR, an airman is an individual who holds a pilot, flight instructor, flight engineer, aircraft dispatcher, mechanic, mechanic with inspection authorization, repairman, parachute rigger, air traffic control tower, flight navigator, airman medical, or remote pilot certificate. Ground instructor and flight attendant certificates are not airman certificates as defined by statute or regulation.

This is basically the pilot’s version of a Miranda warning.  Sweet huh? But it’s not required for those flying recreationally under 49 USC 44809! Passing the recreational aeronautical knowledge test does not make you an airman. Here is my proposed new law for 49 USC 44812,

The Pilot’s Bill of Rights, Public Law 112-153 (Aug. 3, 2012), as amended by Public Law 115-254 (Oct. 5, 2018) shall also apply to any person conforming to the limitations in 49 USC 44809(a).


POINT 7. Drone Pilots Involved in Innocent Accidents Can Submit NASA Reports Instead of Ratting Themselves Out to the FAA

14 CFR 107.9 says,

No later than 10 calendar days after an operation that meets the criteria of either paragraph (a) or (b) of this section, a remote pilot in command must report to the FAA, in a manner acceptable to the Administrator, any operation of the small unmanned aircraft involving at least:

(a) Serious injury to any person or any loss of consciousness; or

(b) Damage to any property, other than the small unmanned aircraft, unless one of the following conditions is satisfied:

(1) The cost of repair (including materials and labor) does not exceed $500; or

(2) The fair market value of the property does not exceed $500 in the event of total loss.

There are already NTSB reporting requirements under 49 CFR Part 830. Furthermore, the FAA is not even publishing the information they have obtained for the last 4 years!  This means this regulation is ONLY for enforcement and not safety. This is the Drone Pilot Safety Act. To foster safety, the public needs to know about the circumstances surrounding the event and not keep it to themselves. Pilots need to feel confident they are not wrapping a noose around their necks.

The Aviation Safety Reporting System run by NASA is already in place and can be utilized by drone pilots. Advisory Circular 00-46F says,

“The FAA determined that ASRP effectiveness would be greatly enhanced if NASA, rather than the FAA, accomplished the receipt, processing, and analysis of raw data. This would ensure the anonymity of the reporter and of all parties involved in a reported occurrence or incident and, consequently, increase the flow of information necessary for the effective evaluation of the safety and efficiency of the NAS. . . . [T]he NASA ASRS security system ensures the confidentiality and anonymity of the reporter, and other parties as appropriate, involved in a reported occurrence or incident. The FAA will not seek, and NASA will not release or make available to the FAA, any report filed with NASA under the ASRS or any other information that might reveal the identity of any party involved in an occurrence or incident reported under the ASRS. There has been no breach of confidentiality of the ASRS under NASA management.”

Furthermore, the public can search the database! The FAA’s present system is useless to the public. We haven’t seen anything published by the FAA yet. The present situation is NOT safe. Here is my proposed language to be included in a newly created 49 USC Section 44813 saying:

Instead of filing a report under 14 CFR 107.9, a person has the option to file a report to the Aviation Safety Reporting System provided the offense was not criminal or was not an accident as defined in 49 CFR Part 830.


POINT 8. NASA Aviation Safety Reporting Program Protections to All People

Part 91 says,

§ 91.25 Aviation Safety Reporting Program: Prohibition against use of reports for enforcement purposes.

The Administrator of the FAA will not use reports submitted to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration under the Aviation Safety Reporting Program (or information derived therefrom) in any enforcement action except information concerning accidents or criminal offenses which are wholly excluded from the Program.

Let’s fix this to apply to all Part 107 pilots and also all recreational pilots flying under the 49 USCS 44809 exception. Furthermore, instead of it being a regulation that the FAA can play around with, let’s make it a statute that only Congress can change! Here is my proposed new statute 49 USC 44814,

The Administrator of the FAA is prohibited from using reports submitted by any person to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration under the Aviation Safety Reporting Program (or information derived therefrom) in any enforcement action except information concerning accidents as defined in 49 CFR Part 830 or criminal offenses which are wholly excluded from the Program.


POINT 9. FAA Needs to Provide the Option of Network ID

While I hate the concept of remote ID, network ID does provide better safety protections than broadcast ID. FAA must create regulations under Part 89 to allow for network ID OR broadcast ID. A person manipulating the controls should have the option of network or broadcast ID.

Also, the rulemaking process applicable to the FAA will take some time which means any final rule for network id won’t happen till sometime after people need to broadcast in September 2023. Furthermore, since it is a life and death scenario, Congress can grant FAA a limited good cause bypass to the Administrative Procedures Act to create some network ID regulations so that the ground controller location may be transmitted over network ID. Proposed language:

It is the sense of Congress that the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Adminisration shall provide individuals with the safety option of transmitting via network identification the ground controller location or take-off location so only FAA and  law enforcement can view this data. Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration shall promulgate a final regulation for network identification of the ground controller location or the take-off location. The Administrator failing to promulgate a rule is considered an “agency action” under 5 USC 551(13)) and an “order” for 49 USC 46110. An agrieved party may petition for writ of mandamus from a court of competent jurisdiction. A failure to peition the FAA for rulemaking is not a prerequirsite to petition a court. A failure by the Administrator to promulgate a notice of proposed rulemaking is considered reasonable grounds for the agrieved party in not making an objection. The lack of a final rule is considered an injury for purposes of a standing anlysis of any agrieved party. The reviewing court shall liberally presume the agrieved party has prudential standing and not use standing as a means to deprive a party of justice.


POINT 10. Modify 14 CFR 91.11 and Create a New Regulation.

14 CFR 91.11 says,

No person may assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crewmember in the performance of the crewmember’s duties aboard an aircraft being operated.

FAA needs to delete “aboard” to fix this. Additionally, the FAA needs to create a regulation similar for the protection of the 49 USC 44809 recreational aircraft. Since Part 91(a) doesn’t apply to aircraft operating under Part 107, the FAA needs to copy-paste and put it somewhere in Part 107. Proposed language:

No person may assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crewmember in the performance of the crewmember’s duties with respect to an aircraft being operated. This section is apply to aircraft conforming to the limitations in 49 USC 44809(a).