On December 26, the FAA released its long-anticipated proposed rule that would require the remote identification (“Remote ID”) of unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS,” or “drones”) in the United States.  The proposed rule is an important step in advancing UAS policy-making in the U.S. and addressing emergent safety and security issues, such as close encounters between drones and manned aircraft and unlawful drone operations in places such as airports, military bases, outdoor events and civil infrastructure.  As addressing these safety and security issues is critical to the advancement of new and innovative commercial drone applications, UAS stakeholders will wish to comment on the proposed rule and its benefits, burdens, costs, viability and any issues not addressed.

The proposed rule had been delayed on three separate occasions, most recently in September, and is viewed by federal authorities and industry stakeholders as a linchpin to further UAS integration and expansion of operations currently restricted by the FAA.  The proposed rule will be open for public comment for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register on December 31, 2019 and is available here.

Current UAS regulations do not provide a way for federal and state authorities to determine a drone’s identification except by physically inspecting the registration number, which is often impossible.  Remote ID allows a drone to transmit identifying information while in flight to other parties, such as the FAA, federal security agencies, law enforcement, people on the ground and other airspace users.  The FAA – and industry stakeholders – view Remote ID as a critical element for building unmanned traffic management capabilities and for enabling routine expanded operations, such as flights at night, beyond visual line of sight, and over people, which are currently restricted under Part 107 rules (14 C.F.R. §107) without an individualized waiver from the FAA (14 C.F.R. §107.200).

Applicability of Remote ID Requirements

Under the proposed rule, all UAS operating in U.S. airspace, with very limited exceptions, would be subject to the proposed Remote ID requirements.  All UAS operators would be required to comply except those flying UAS that are not otherwise required to be registered under the FAA’s existing rules. All UAS produced for operation in U.S. airspace would have to comply with the design and production requirements established in the proposed rule, with exceptions for amateur-built UAS, U.S. government UAS, and unmanned aircraft weighing less than 0.55 pounds.

Scope of Integration

The FAA has indicated that full integration of Remote ID technology is dependent upon three components:

(1) the Remote ID rulemaking process, which will establish operating requirements for UAS operators and performance-based design and production standards for producers of UAS;

(2) a network of Remote ID UAS Service Suppliers (“Remote ID USS”) under contract with the FAA that would collect the ID and location from in-flight UAS in real-time. This network is to be similar to the FAA’s Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (“LAANC”).  Further information on LAANC is available here;

(3) technical requirements that standards-setting organizations, such as RTCA and ANSI, must develop to meet the performance-based design and production requirements in the proposed rule.

Broadcast or Network Capabilities

The vast majority of UAS would be required to comply with the requirements for either (1) Standard Remote ID UAS and (2) Limited Remote ID UAS.  The key difference between them being that Standard Remote ID UAS would be required to broadcast ID and location information from the UAS and transmit that same information to a Remote ID USS through an internet connection.  On the other hand, Limited Remote ID UAS would be required to transmit information through the internet only, with no broadcast requirements.  Limited Remote ID UAS can operate no more than 400 feet from the control station.

The FAA has established limited exceptions in the proposed rule for certain amateur-built UAS and UAS manufactured prior to the compliance date, which would only be permitted to fly within certain “FAA-recognized ID areas.”

Other Aspects of the Proposed Rule

ADS-B Out: the proposed rule prohibits the use of ADS-B Out and transponders for UAS operations under 14 CFR Part 107 and Part 91, unless otherwise authorized by the FAA. This proposed prohibition is in response to concerns that the projected numbers of UAS operations could saturate available ADS-B frequencies, affecting ADS-B capabilities for manned aircraft and potentially blinding ADS-B ground receivers.

Tamper-Resistance: for both Standard Remote ID UAS and Limited Remote ID UAS, the proposed rule requires design and production features that reduce the ability of persons to tamper with the Remote ID functionality. All Remote ID UAS must be designed and produced with Remote ID functionality that is always enabled and cannot be disabled, except as authorized by the FAA.  All Remote ID UAS must also be designed and produced to notify the person manipulating the flight controls of the UAS of any Remote ID malfunctions, failures or anomalies.

Implementation Period: the proposed rule outlines a three-year implementation period, after which all UAS operating in U.S. airspace – whether for commercial or recreational use – must be compliant with the Remote ID requirements.  Beginning two years following the final rule, the rule would prohibit UAS from being produced for operation in the U.S. unless the UAS is compliant with Remote ID requirements.  Beginning three years following the final rule, no UAS could be operated in the U.S. unless it is compliant with Remote ID requirements.  Industry stakeholders have already expressed frustration with the FAA’s prolonged implementation period.

Next Steps

The proposed rule will be open for public comment for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register on December 31, 2019.  UAS stakeholders should consider commenting on key topics affecting their operations, including: (1) the costs/burdens to drone operators; (2) the FAA’s performance-based standards and feasibility of associated technical requirements and compliance; (3) the proposed Remote ID USS network model; (4) data privacy and information security; (5) implementation timing for Remote ID and expanded operations; and (6) tamper-resistance.