FAA Proposes Rules for Remote Drone ID


By Ryan Wicks

It’s a new year, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) started 2020 with a bang. On December 31st 2019, the FAA published a Proposed Rule document entitled “Remote Identification of Unmanned Aircraft Systems”.  As the title suggests, the proposed regulations in this document would in many cases require an unmanned aircraft vehicle (UAV) flown within US airspace to have remote identification technology, thus mandating much more powerful tools to track UAVs in US airspace in real-time. With relatively few exceptions this would apply to any UAV that requires registration, regardless of whether it is flown for commercial or recreational purposes. If passed, these regulations would have a comprehensive impact on the entire unmanned aircraft system (UAS) industry: including UAS owners, operators, manufacturers, and companies that would be contracted to provide remote ID services akin to the way multiple service providers are currently approved by the FAA as service providers for the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) system.

In 2018 the FAA in partnership with several private companies launched LAANC to streamline the integration of unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operations into controlled airspace. (https://www.faa.gov/uas/programs_partnerships/data_exchange/) This system drastically improved the situational awareness of both drone pilots and air traffic controllers alike, and was a step towards ensuring both the safety and the efficacy of drone operations in US airspace. The proposed rules for remote identification aim to take the regulations and industry a step further to monitor activity of drones for improved safety not just in controlled airspace, but in all US airspace. The proposed rules do outline a few exceptions, however, such as approved areas where individuals could fly any UAV, regardless of whether remote ID technology was active on it. Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) technology is currently implemented for tracking and coordinating manned aircraft in US airspace, however, the proposed rules would prohibit the adoption of this particular technology in many cases for UAVs, citing: “The FAA is concerned that the potential proliferation of ADS-B Out transmitters on UAS may negatively affect the safe operation of manned aircraft in the airspace of the United States. The projected numbers of UAS operations have the potential to saturate available ADS-B frequencies, affecting ADS-B capabilities for manned aircraft and potentially blinding ADS-B ground receivers.” Regardless of the specifics of the technologies used in remote identification for UAVs, the implementation of such a policy would have several key components, including the laws themselves, technology standards for remote tracking that the UAV manufacturing industry would implement, as well as remote ID service providers, not to mention compliance of users and enforcement.

The improved safety features that this new paradigm would enable could lead to a variety of improvements in how the US handles UAVs operating within its airspace, but if implemented would also come with associated costs. There actually is a lot of nuance and detail in this proposal, and if you are involved in the UAS industry in any way, either as an end-user and drone pilot or a manufacturer or researcher, it probably behooves you to review the proposed rules yourself. An electronic version of the proposed rules may be found here:

Title: “Remote Identification of Unmanned Aircraft Systems”
Docket ID: “FAA-2019-1100”
RIN: 2120-AL31
Federal Registration Number: 2019-28100

The rules are open for public comment through 02 March 2020.
In the past UMassAir has been involved in a variety of research projects in collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) to develop a vision of the benefits that UAS operations can have for the commonwealth, and to develop an understanding of what policies and protocols can allow for their safe use. These new proposed rules for remote identification on UASs would certainly be a game-changer, and many of us at UMassAir will be watching with keen interest how these regulations develop.