FAA Remote ID System Still a Priority for 2020

During the FAA Drone Advisory Committee’s meeting on June 19, FAA Deputy Administrator Dan Elwell said that the agency expects to issue a final rule on its proposed Remote ID system by December 2020.

Remind me... what's the FAA Remote ID again?

Sure. 

Last December, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that outlined their intent to require that all but the tiniest drones incorporate tracking technology. The proposed system is designed to enable regulators, law enforcement, and other interested parties to track drone movements and in some cases obtain identifying information for any drone operating in the national airspace.

That sounds burdensome.

Consortiq has made the case that the proposed system, in its current state, is far from optimal for many reasons, and numerous industry stakeholders have denounced the system as overly complex, infeasible, and intrusive.

But, proponents argue that not having a comprehensive drone identification and tracking system has been a long-standing barrier to drone innovation. For instance, Wing, Zipline, Amazon, UPS, and a host of other companies, have sought permission to develop drone delivery solutions. But, regulations haven’t allowed it, in part due to law enforcement agency concerns about unidentified drones being used for terrorism, drug smuggling, or other crimes.

As a result, most drone delivery solutions have been limited to proof-of-concept projects in specific areas, such as testing corridors or university campuses. In other words, implementing a way to identify and track any drone at any time could help assuage those concerns and open the door for more advanced UAS solutions.

So, by giving authorities better visibility, UAS operators might get permission to do more?

That’s the idea.

The optimist’s view is that the remote system ID is an important step in creating an Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management System (UTM) that is scalable to the national airspace. Critics argue that the system’s rollout is going to be slow, painful, and ultimately not successful, which means it will delay, not catalyze, the development of a UTM.

How will it work?

The proposed regulation divides drones into two categories: standard remote identification and limited remote identification. 

Standard remote identification drones will broadcast Remote ID signals using the radio frequency spectrum and transmit them over an internet connection. These drones will be permitted to fly anywhere a small UAS is allowed to under other applicable regulations, such as Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations. 

Meanwhile, limited remote identification drones will only transmit the required elements over the internet, but cannot broadcast over the air. These drones will be limited to VLOS operations, and the FAA will require the manufacturer to limit such drones to fly within 400 feet of the operator.

In other words, both have to ping information about their aircraft and whereabouts to Identification UAS Service Suppliers, companies chosen by the FAA to gather and manage the tracking information.

Goodbye, privacy...

That is a valid concern.

Note that operators will have the option to randomly-generated alphanumeric code assigned by a Remote ID USS on a per-flight basis, if they want additional privacy. And, remember that drones themselves are widely seen as a threat to privacy.

Unfortunately, drone operators don’t have a lot of bargaining power on this one.

OK, but what about operations where there’s limited connectivity? 

According to page 94 of the NPRM, a standard remote identification UAS that loses connection to the internet, or that can no longer transmit to a Remote ID USS after takeoff, would be able to continue its flight, as long as it continues broadcasting the message elements.

It is true, however, that limited remote identification drones cannot take off without an internet connection.

Unfortunately, drone operators don’t have a lot of bargaining power on this one.

Will this require an expensive upgrade? 

The NPRM (page 89) states that “the FAA reviewed UAS registered to part 107 operators and found 93% of the existing part 107 UAS fleet may have technical capabilities to be retrofit based on information received by industry (i.e., could support software updates through the internet).” 

That’s because most drones have internet and WiFi connectivity, ability to transmit data, receive software uploads, and have radio frequency transceivers, among other technology such as advanced microprocessors.

However, the new system will likely create barriers for recreational operators, STEM programs at universities, and other drone operators that tend to use older or less advanced equipment.

So, when will this get implemented?

The proposal envisions that within three years of the effective date of approval, all UAS operating in the airspace of the United States will be compliant with the remote identification requirements. 

There have been numerous predictions that the FAA’s timeline would be disrupted due to issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but if Elwell’s statements prove true, and the FAA does approve the system by the end of 2021, their proposal outlines the following implementation schedule.

  • In 2021, the focus would be on creating a system to connect standard remote identification UAS and limited remote identification UAS to a Remote ID USS.
  • In 2022, manufacturers would begin to produce inventory with remote identification for availability to operators by year 3.
  • In 2023, operators would finally have to start buying the necessary equipment to be compliant with the new system by the end of the year.

In short, even if the schedule is adhered to, nothing is going to change in the short term, and as long as you stay up to date on things as they evolve, you shouldn’t be sidelined by anything major.

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn is an experienced management professional who is currently pursuing her master’s in Data, Economics, and Development Policy at MIT while serving as principal consultant at Consult92.

Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

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