The FAA released its ruling on Monday, December 28th, on Remote Identification (Remote ID) for drones and also a final rule on flights at night and over people. Their proposal was originally published in December 2019 and it appears to have gone through some changes, including removing the requirement that all drones essentially be connected to the Internet whenever they’re in the air.
While it is a long and complex document, an Executive Summary of the Final Rule provided by the FAA does break down the basics of how the system will work and the requirements for drone pilots throughout the USA.
The most controversial part of the FAA’s proposal was that of the Drone ID system. In principle, it’s a great idea, backed by most responsible drone pilots as well as manufacturers like DJI. But DJI (and just about everybody else) wasn’t happy with the FAA wanted to implement it, putting out a call-to-action response to get them to rethink their course.
Essentially, the FAA wanted all drones to be connected to the Internet while airborne, so they could be tracked in realtime. As DJI put it…
What if instead of just a license plate, your car was also legally required to be connected via the internet to a privately run car-tracking service that charged you an annual fee of about 20% of your car’s value, and stored six months of your driving data for government scrutiny? Would you think the government had gone too far?
Well, the FAA does seem to have gone back on their initial idea for something a little more reasonable and there are now three ways through which pilots can comply with the new Remote ID rules (basically, a digital “license plate” for drones, much as you have with your car).
- Standard Remote ID system – Broadcast Remote ID messages from the UAV via radio frequency (like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth) containing a message which includes the UA ID, latitude/longitude, altitude, velocity, position of the control station (the pilot), emergency status and a timestamp. Any stored data will only be viewable by the FAA, however, it can be made available to authorised law enforcement.
- UA Remote ID Broadcast Module – A separate device attached or built-into unmanned aircraft that broadcasts the information stated in the previous method. Allows for retrofitting to pre-existing drones. Must be operated within visual line of sight at all times. Must broadcast on a radio frequency (Wi-Fi or Bluetooth).
- FAA-Recognised Identification Areas (FRIA) – These are essentially areas recognised by the FAA as places where unmanned aircraft not equipped with Remote ID are allowed to fly. Organisations can apply for FRIA status, including educational institutions, trade schools, collects and universities. Flights are limited to line of sight within the boundaries of the FRIA.
It is important to note that this does not apply to drones weighing less than 0.55lb (250g) unless subject to additional registration (like Part 107 for commercial use). So, that Mavic Mini 2 you just got for Christmas is totally ok to fly without Remote ID (as long as you’re not commercial). But if you’re flying anything from a Mavic Air on up, you’re going to need to deal with Remote ID, whether you’re commercial or not, or fly in zones designated as an FRIA.