The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced earlier this month that the long-awaited Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on remote identification for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS, or drones) has been delayed for a third time. The NPRM is now projected to be issued in December 2019.

Remote identification is the ability of a drone to transmit identifying information while in flight to other parties, such as the FAA, federal security agencies, and law enforcement. 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 often is not possible. As a result, many UAS operations can be conducted anonymously, including those that violate the FAA’s regulations. Remote identification would greatly enhance the ability of state and federal authorities to respond when a drone is flown in an unsafe or unlawful manner.

The FAA has described remote identification as “crucial” to integrating drones into the National Airspace System. Federal authorities and industry stakeholders have recognized that remote identification must precede the expansion of the FAA’s current restrictions on UAS operations. Those restrictions, contained in 14 C.F.R. Part 107 (“Part 107”), prohibit many types of advanced UAS operations absent a waiver, such as nighttime operations, operations over people, and operations beyond the operator’s visual line-of-sight. Although the FAA proposed regulations in February 2019 that would lift the restrictions on nighttime operations and operations over people, the FAA also stated that those regulations would not become final until the FAA finalizes its policy on remote identification.

The delay in establishing remote identification requirements may slow the evolution of other UAS applications in the United States. The reasons for the rules’ delay are not clear. Industry stakeholders have expressed disappointment in the delay, and Members of Congress have sought more clarity from the FAA. In a September 12, 2019 letter to the FAA, Senators Thune and Markey requested more information about the timing and implementation of the remote identification regulations. Although it remains to be seen whether the FAA will meet its new target of December 2019 for issuing proposed regulations, the FAA will be under increased pressure to act promptly.