Key Notes:

  • Remote ID would enable FAA and law enforcement to locate and identify drones.
  • Commercial operators effectively must acquire Remote ID capability.
  • Could eventually lead to traffic management and BVLOS operations.

On December 31, 2019, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) published a long-awaited proposed rule that would require remote identification (Remote ID) of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or drones). The Remote ID rule is a critical step toward expanding drone operations, like package delivery and flights over people and at night, because it addresses many attendant drone safety and security issues, including operations near manned aircraft and overflights of critical infrastructure, large gatherings of people, recreational facilities and military installations. Those interested in expanded drone operations and drone safety and security, including drone manufacturers and operators, should consider submitting comments on the rule by the March 2, 2020 deadline.

Recent news reports of mysterious drone swarms flying at night over Colorado and Nebraska and unauthorized drone operations near airports[1] underscore the need for Remote ID. Currently, the FAA and others can primarily only identify and locate drones and their operators by sight, but because of their small size and remote operation, visually identifying a drone that poses safety and security risks and locating its operator is difficult.

Remote ID would enable the FAA and law enforcement to electronically locate and identify drones, similar to how the FAA electronically tracks commercial airliners. It also can provide airspace users and air traffic controllers with location information for drones that might pose a collision risk. Thus, Remote ID provides the FAA and law enforcement with important capability to identify and address drone safety and security risks. It also is critical to establishing UAS traffic management capabilities that will help manage traffic conflicts for drone operations beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS).

The FAA envisions that full implementation of Remote ID will require three elements:

  • The Remote ID rule, which establishes operational requirements and UAS design and production standards necessary to enable Remote ID.
  • A network of third-party Remote ID UAS Service Suppliers (Remote ID USS) that will collect identification data from in-flight UAS. Remote ID USS would operate under a contract with the FAA, and some may charge for their services.
  • A collection of technical requirements developed by standards-setting organizations to meet the performance-based design and production requirements in the Remote ID rule.

UAS Operating Requirements

Under the rule, all UAS operations, with a few limited exceptions, must comply with one of three Remote ID operating categories:

  • Standard Remote ID, which requires the UAS to broadcast identification and location information from the aircraft and simultaneously transmit that information via the internet to a Remote ID USS.
  • Limited Remote ID, which only requires the UAS to transmit identification and location information via the internet to a Remote ID USS. The unmanned aircraft in these operations must be designed to operate no more than 400 feet from the control station and the operations must occur within visual line of sight.
  • No Remote ID, which does not require the UAS to transmit identification and location information, but limits UAS operations to within visual line of sight and the boundaries of an “FAA-recognized identification area.”

The FAA expects that the vast majority of UAS will operate within the Standard or Limited Remote ID categories. Also, UAS manufactured with Standard or Limited Remote ID capability must operate within their respective category (e.g., they cannot be operated in the No Remote ID category).

Manufacturer Requirements

To ensure that Remote ID is generally available, the rule would require all UAS, with a few limited exceptions, to be designed and produced to meet certain performance-based standards for Standard or Limited Remote ID. Manufacturers can use any FAA-approved means of compliance with the performance-based standards, and the FAA encourages consensus standards bodies to develop means of compliance with the standards. Additionally, the rule would require manufacturers to assign each unmanned aircraft a unique serial number that would enable identification of the aircraft.

Other Important Aspects of the Rule

ADS-B Out. UAS would generally be prohibited from using Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) Out and transponders, which are technologies that manned aircraft use to provide location and identification information, unless specifically authorized by the FAA. These technologies do not have the bandwidth to accommodate UAS operations and would require additional infrastructure to support the low-altitude operations common among UAS.

FAA-recognized identification areas. The rule envisions that FAA-recognized identification areas will be operated by community-based organizations (CBOs). Under the rule, only CBOs may apply to the FAA for the establishment of identification areas, and they must do so within 12 months after the FAA finalizes the rule.

Means of compliance. The rule would prescribe requirements for a means of compliance, developed by a standards-setting organization or other person, that describes how a person designing or producing a UAS can comply with the performance standards for the design and production of UAS with Remote ID capability. In addition, it prescribes procedural rules for obtaining FAA acceptance of a means of compliance and recordkeeping requirements for persons who submit an accepted means of compliance.

Registration. To ensure that the Remote ID information can be traced to a particular unmanned aircraft, the rule would generally require each one to be registered with the FAA. Today, multiple unmanned aircraft used for certain recreational operations can be registered under a single registration without identifying each individual aircraft.

Remote ID USS. Consistent with its desire to partner with third parties to provide aviation-related services to UAS, the FAA envisions partnering with Remote ID USS to provide four key functions:

  • Collect and store Remote ID messages.
  • Provide identification services on behalf of a UAS operator and act as the operator’s access point to identification services.
  • Provide the FAA access to the Remote ID information collected and stored by the USS through a data connection that may be on demand or continuous.
  • Inform the FAA when the services are active and inactive.

A Remote ID USS may provide its services to the public or for a private fleet and it may charge for its services. The FAA anticipates that most Remote ID USS would come from private industry.

Tamper resistance and functionality limits. The rule would require all Standard and Limited Remote ID UAS to have design features that inhibit tampering with the Remote ID functionality. In addition, these UAS must have features that prevent takeoff when unable to make required transmissions of Remote ID information.

Compliance dates. The requirements under the rule would be phased in according to the following schedule: