It’s a belated Christmas of sorts for the drone industry, as the Federal Aviation Administration today released its drone remote ID proposal.
And whether you view this gift as a coal or a crown, there’s a lot to unwrap here.
Remote ID is essentially a system of creating license plates for drones. But instead of tiny plates fixed on the drone, it would be an electronic system where drones transmit their information digitally.
The newly released FAA proposal would require the design and production of drones to fall into one of two categories: standard remote identification UAS and limited remote identification UAS
- Standard remote identification UAS: this would require drones to broadcast their identification and location information directly from the aircraft. Additionally, the drone would have to simultaneously transmit that same information to a Remote ID USS through an internet connection.
- Limited remote identification UAS: this would require that drones transmit their information through the internet only, with no broadcast requirements. If drones meet this requirement and not the other, then they would have to be designed to operate no more than 400 feet from the control station.
Much like other drone-related FAA proposals, privately operated service providers would prove these services to drones (much like the FAA’s low altitude authorization and notification capability proposals). That would likely be from companies like software startup Kittyhawk, Project Wing (a drone company affiliated with Google) or dronemaker DJI — all companies that have already tested versions of their own drone remote ID proposals.
The proposed Remote I.D. rule would apply to all drones that are required to register with the FAA (recreational drones weighing under 0.55 pounds are not required to register), as well as to people who operate foreign civil drone in the United States. That means smaller drones being operated for hobby purposes, such as the new DJI Mavic Mini, would be exempt from the drone remote ID rule.
The FAA has said that it expects all drones to be compliant within three years of the effective date of the final rule (not this proposed rule).
That could mean big changes for both drone makers and drone pilots, as the FAA said in the proposal that no drones would be able to be produced for operation in the U.S. within two years of the rule being made official.
But the procedure is not dissimilar to other industries in the U.S. You can’t sell cars in the U.S. unless they have seatbelts, and likewise you wouldn’t be able to sell drones unless they have Remote ID capabilities.
Though, drone manufacturers aren’t necessarily opposed to the rule. DJI issued a statement that seemed neutral, but optimistic.
“DJI has long advocated for a Remote Identification system that would provide safety, security and accountability for authorities,” said Brendan Schulman, DJI Vice President of Policy & Legal Affairs in a prepared statement on behalf of the drone maker. “The widespread adoption of Remote Identification is expected to clear a path for routine use of drones in more complex and beneficial operations, such as flights over people, at night or beyond the pilot’s line of sight.”
The news was released today as part of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register. Before the FAA sets rules in stone, they print unpublished, proposed rules here. As is tradition, a 60-day comment period will open sometime in the next few days, where anyone (whether industry experts or just everyday drone enthusiasts) can submit feedback.
The FAA says they use that feedback to help “develop a final rule that enhances safety and security in our nation’s skies,” according to an FAA memo.
Brandon Roberts, Deputy Executive Director for the FAA, said that he expected the public comment period to close on March 2.
Remote ID is seen by many, including FAA leaders, as a critical step in allowing drones to operate on a wide scale in the U.S., such as flying over people or flying beyond visual line of sight.
“These efforts are the foundation for more complex operations, such as beyond visual line of sight at low altitudes, as we move toward a traffic management ecosystem for drone flights separate from, but complementary to, our air traffic management system,” the FAA said in a public memo.
But that’s not all that needs to be done to enable widespread drone use. The FAA is simultaneously working on other projects, like the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC), which automates the application and approval process for drone operators to obtain airspace authorizations.
Today, there are nearly 1.5 million drones and 155,000 remote pilots registered with the FAA