Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) solution Airmap recently created an uproar in the drone community after posting a series of tweets suggesting that taxation, along with launch and landing fees, should be applied to flights. The California-based company has drawn ire from the industry in the past. However, this is the first time they’ve revealed their intentions in a public forum. The posts have since been deleted from their Twitter account.
Calls to boycott Airmap immediately started making the rounds online. Some individuals found it necessary to share screenshots of the app, which helps plan flights and fulfill Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capabilities (LAANC) requests, being removed from their devices.
‘AirMap’s now deleted tweets laid bare their intent to make profit from legal restrictions on your drone flights. Leaders within their organization have long advocated for aerial trespassing laws and in favor of local municipalities establishing their own drone regulations’ says Ryan LaTourette, Director of Regulatory Affairs at Great Lakes Drone Company.
‘Those fees do not encourage innovation nor do they encourage business activity. The only way to enable the ability to levy taxes and fees based on take-offs and landings is to force drone operators to participate in the UTM network,’ the Drone Service Providers Alliance (DSPA) tells DPReview. Airmap’s intentions read as they wish to backdoor the drone community for their own monetary gains.
‘Historically, Airmap has been hostile to the idea of open skies for drones. They spent over $170,000 a year to lobby for Senator Feinstein’s Drone Federalism Bill which would privatize the first 200 feet of airspace and would have negatively impacted airspace even above that altitude’ the DSPA explains.
‘They continued this effort lobbying extensively for H.R. 2930, known as the Drone Innovation Act. Then in 2019, Airmap attempted to push through (and almost succeeded) a model rule through the Uniform Law Commission until people in the drone industry pushed back.’
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently released their final rulemaking for Remote ID. Open for public commentary, over 50,000 individuals and organizations shared their opinions. Overwhelming opposition for a network-based (Internet) connection or the use of third-party UAS Service Suppliers populated most of the comments section. The FAA listened and removed the clause from the final rulemaking, or did they?
‘Drone operators may be lulled by the FAA’s pull back from requiring internet connectivity in the finalized Remote ID regulations, but they didn’t outright abandon it.’
‘Drone operators may be lulled by the FAA’s pull back from requiring internet connectivity in the finalized Remote ID regulations, but they didn’t outright abandon it. Instead, pay attention to what they did say: “the FAA has determined that, at this time, this rule will only finalize the broadcast-based remote identification requirements.” They’ve left the door open for the future as they gear up the UTM system. AirMap’s advocacy in this area should alarm every drone operator’ LaTourette continues in a statement to DPReview.
To get an idea of the precedent that’s been set in manned aviation, airports already charge hangar and parking fees while also assessing landing and departure fees. If Airmap succeeds in becoming the FAA’s preferred UTM provider, drone operators could expect to pay fees for the launches and landings of their aircraft depending on its location. Session ID and serial number could be used in tandem with local ordinances to establish additional fees and taxes.
Airmap’s data is used by conglomerates including Microsoft Ventures, Honeywell and others. Individual pilots banding together to boycott the use of its app may not have the impact they hope. Nevertheless, the number of certified remote pilots has surpassed 200,000 and will continue to grow. The same can be applied for hobbyist drone operators, of which there are over 1,200,000 in the U.S.
There’s a willingness to pay for LAANC, but UTM for every flight seems to be an overreach. Says DSPA, ‘we are not opposed to paying for USS services such as LAANC, but to force participation in UTM in order to make money only serves to increase costs with no benefit to drone pilots. It is our hope that Airmap reconsiders their efforts and instead works with the industry similar to companies like Kittyhawk.io, UASidekick and ANRA.’