The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a pre-publication version of its much anticipated unmanned aircraft system (UAS or drone) remote identification Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). This rulemaking is viewed as a major step toward further integration of drones into the U.S. National Airspace (NAS) and a robust unmanned traffic management (UTM) system. The NPRM is slated for formal publication in the Federal Register on Dec. 31, 2019 and will provide for a 60-day public comment period. Accordingly, interested parties should expect to submit comments on or before Feb. 29, 2020.

The remote identification rulemaking is an important prerequisite to the completion of other FAA rules that will green light advanced drone operations, including a final rule on drone operations over people. In late 2016, publication of the "flights over people" proposed rule was suspended in response to security concerns raised by the federal law enforcement community, which insisted that remote identification standards be in place before certain advanced UAS operations are permitted. When the delayed “flights over people” NPRM finally was published in February 2019, the FAA explicitly stated in the preamble that a final rule on flights over people will not be issued until a remote identification rule is finalized.

Additionally, remote identification is seen as the next key step in the evolution toward implementation of a full UTM system. The remote identification NPRM states "UAS remote identification is a foundational building block of UTM and a key stepping stone to the future ability to conduct routine BVLOS operations." As described below, a vital part of the remote identification framework would use as a model the service provider construct from the current Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) program, which the FAA considers to be the first building block of UTM. The increased ability to manage drone traffic in the NAS opens the door for more advanced operations, such as beyond visual line of sight, without requiring individual waivers.

The NPRM proposes new operating requirements for drone operators in the NAS, including a mandate to operate only UAS that meet the remote identification design and production standards set out in the proposed rule. The operating requirements would apply to all drone operators in the U.S. who are currently required to register (including, e.g., those operating under Part 107). The proposed rule would require such drone operators to transmit remote identification within three years of the effective date of the final rule. The FAA proposes three remote identification classifications:

  1. Standard Remote Identification: Requires the UAS to transmit identification and location information to an FAA-contracted UAS Service Supplier (USS) and locally broadcast in unrestricted spectrum (e.g., Wifi or Bluetooth signals). The FAA proposes to leverage its current model for FAA-contracted LAANC service providers in contracting for and implementing USS services.
  2. Limited Remote Identification: Requires the UAS to transmit identification and location information to an FAA-contracted USS only, but is applicable only to visual line of sight operations occurring within 400 feet of the operator.
  3. No Remote Identification: Drones would not be required to transmit remote identification when operating within a "FAA-Recognized Identification area" (FRIA), designation of which can be requested by community-based organizations, such as model aircraft clubs and associations, one year after the effective date of the final rule.

As UAS operator compliance depends on the availability of the UAS meeting any final design and production standards, the FAA is proposing to require that covered drones be manufactured in compliance with the final rule beginning two years after the effective date of the final rulemaking.