After an enormous amount of anticipation, the final rule on Remote Identification for drones, as well as the final rule on Operations over People with drones are here. Yes, that means drones will have to be capable of being remotely identified in order to fly. Here’s what you need to know about the final rule on Remote ID, as well as a few other new FAA rules for drone operators:
The final rule on Remote ID for drones
The final rule on Remote ID applies to all operators of drones that require FAA registration. That means if your drone weighs more than 0.55 lbs. (250 grams) and less than 55 lbs. (25 kg), you’ll not only have to register your drone (as has long been the case), but you’ll also need to comply with the Remote ID rules.
There are three ways to comply with the Remote ID rule for drones:
- Operate a standard Remote ID drone that broadcasts identification and location information of the drone and control station.
- Operate a drone with a Remote ID broadcast module (may be a separate device attached to the drone), which broadcasts identification, location, and take-off information.
- Operate a drone without Remote ID but at specific FAA-recognized identification areas.
If you’re operating a standard remote ID aircraft:
Your drone will need to broadcast remote ID messages directly from the drone via radio frequency broadcast (likely Wi-Fi or Bluetooth technology). That drone’s broadcast will need to be compatible with existing personal wireless devices.
Range of the remote ID broadcast may vary, as each UA must be designed to maximize the range at which the broadcast can be received.
What will the message need to say? The Remote ID message should include your drone’s ID (that’s the serial number of the drone or its session ID); latitude/longitude; altitude, and velocity of the drone; latitude/longitude and altitude of the control station; emergency status; and time mark.
Who will have access to my drone’s Remote ID information? Anyone with a personal wireless device within range of the broadcast will have access to most of the information. What most people won’t have access to is the correlating the serial number or session ID with the registration database. That information will be limited to the FAA and can be made available to authorized law enforcement and national security personnel upon request.
If you’re operating a drone with a Remote ID Broadcast Module:
The good news: you won’t necessarily need to buy a completely new drone. But if you don’t, you will have to get a ‘Broadcast Module,’ which may be a separate device that is attached to your drone, or a feature built into the aircraft.
However, if you go this route, the drone must remain within your line of sight at all times.
The Broadcast Module serial number must be entered into the registration record for the unmanned aircraft. Like the message broadcast in the standard requirements, the message broadcast from a Broadcast Module should include serial number of the module; latitude/longitude, altitude, and velocity of UA; latitude/longitude and altitude of the take off location, and time mark.
What if you don’t want Remote ID for your drone?
You can still fly, but you’ll be limited. Drones that don’t have Remote ID technology will only be able to fly in what the FAA is calling FAA-Recognized Identification Areas (or FRIA), which are “geographic areas recognized by the FAA where unmanned aircraft not equipped with Remote ID are allowed to fly.”
Those areas have not been defined yet, but the FAA said organizations can apply to make some or all of their land a FRIA. That could include community-based organizations or schools — so groups like the Academy of Model Aeronautics could set up their AMA fields to be a site, or research institutions could set up fields to conduct drone tests without remote ID. The FAA said it will begin accepting applications for FRIAs 18 months after the effective date of the rule, and applications may be submitted at any time after that.
If flying in a FRIA, drones must remain within visual line of sight.
Why Remote ID, and why now?
The implementation of Remote ID has long been seen as a major step toward the full integration of drones into the national airspace system. By being able to identify drones in flight as well as the location of their control stations, risk of drone interference with other aircraft and people and property on the ground should theoretically be reduced.
The FAA said it anticipates that its Remote ID rules will help mitigate risks associated with expanded drone operations, such as flights over people and at night. It also added in a statement that it believes ‘both rules support technological and operational innovation and advancements.’
“These final rules carefully address safety, security and privacy concerns while advancing opportunities for innovation and utilization of drone technology,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao.
Equipping drones with Remote ID technology builds on previous steps taken by the FAA and the drone industry to integrate operations safely into the national airspace system.
And the final rule on Remote ID deviates widely from the FAA’s its drone remote ID proposal, which was released this week last year. The proposed rules were not exactly well-received, with industry experts calling it “unnecessary and completely government over reach,” “devastating for STEM” and “disappointing.” Even Google sister company Wing issued a lengthy statement outlining its disappointment about the proposed remote ID rules.
Luckily, the new rules eliminate the network-based and Internet transmission requirements that upset a number of drone industry advocates in the proposed rule (the final rule contains Broadcast-only requirements).
Other changes from the proposed rule include:
- a rule that some categories of drones cannot have any exposed rotating parts that would lacerate human skin.
- a rule to allow operations over moving vehicles.
- the requirement that either the remote pilot, owner, or person manipulating the controls must have in their physical possession and readily available their remote pilot certificate.
New rules for flying drones over people and at night
The FAA’s newly announced Operations Over People and at Night rule allows Part 107 remote pilots the ability to fly over people and moving vehicles, contingent upon “the level of risk” of the drone operation.
Those risk factors break drones down into four categories.
- Category 1 drones: must weigh less than 0.55 lbs, including everything onboard or otherwise attached, and contain no exposed rotating parts that would lacerate human skin.
Remote pilots can operate in sustained flight over open-air assemblies if their drone meets the requirements for standard remote identification or remote identification broadcast modules established in the Remote ID Final Rule.
- Category 2 drones: must not cause injury to a human being that is equivalent to or greater than the severity of injury caused by a transfer of 11 foot-pounds of kinetic energy upon impact from a rigid object, does not contain any exposed rotating parts that could lacerate human skin upon impact with a human being, and does not contain any safety defects.
Remote pilots can operate in sustained flight over open-air assemblies if their drone meets the requirements for standard remote identification or remote identification broadcast modules established in the Remote ID Final Rule and the applicant has established a means of compliance and declaration of compliance.
- Category 3 drones: must not cause injury to a human being that is equivalent to or greater than the severity of injury caused by a transfer of 25 foot-pounds of kinetic energy upon impact from a rigid object, does not contain any exposed rotating parts that could lacerate human skin upon impact with a human being, and does not contain any safety defects.
These drones may only operate over people if:
- the operation is within or over a closed- or restricted-access site and all human beings located within that site have been notified that must be on notice that a drone may fly over them
- the drone does not maintain sustained flight over anyone unless that person is directly participating in the drone’s operation or is underneath a covered structure or inside a stationary vehicle that can provide reasonable protection from a falling drone
- Category 4 drones: must have an airworthiness certificate issued under Part 21
Part 107 of the FAA regulations prohibited drone pilots from flying over people and/or at night unless they obtained a waiver from the FAA, which was a cumbersome process — especially considering operations in an empty field at night were often seen as arguably safer than flying in a busier area at high-noon with the sun blocking your eyes. It also made it difficult to fly drones over people, which is inevitable for widespread drone use, such as package delivery.
Now, no waiver is necessary.
“The new rules make way for the further integration of drones into our airspace by addressing safety and security concerns,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. “They get us closer to the day when we will more routinely see drone operations such as the delivery of packages.”
What’s next for the final rule on Remote ID and flights at night/over people?
Both rules will become effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. But it’s okay if you aren’t actually using Remote ID on your devices within two months — and in fact, the FAA doesn’t expect you to.
Drone manufacturers have 18 months to begin producing drones with Remote ID. From there, you’ll have an additional year to start using drones with Remote ID — essentially meaning you have two-and-a-half years to get your technology into compliance.
One more thing: the rule clearly states that drone operators will need to have their remote pilot certificate and identification in their physical possession when operating drones. And yes, you’ll need to have it ready to present to authorities if needed.
And finally, the final rule replaces the requirement to complete a recurrent test every 24 months. Instead, you’ll need to complete updated recurrent training that includes operating at night in identified subject areas. Yes, that means the Remote Pilot knowledge test will now include night subject areas.
Drones represent the fastest-growing segment in the entire transportation sector, according to FAA data, with currently over 1.7 million drone registrations and 203,000 FAA-certificated remote pilots.