On Monday, December 28th, the Federal Aviation Administration released its ruling on Remote Identification (Remote ID) for drones along with a final rule on flights over people and at night. Coming in roughly a little less than a year after the Notice for Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on Remote ID was published, this nearly 500-page document, written mostly in legalese, will take awhile to fully unpack.
A final rule for Remote ID
What is certain for now, thanks to an Executive Summary provided by the FAA, is that a highly contentious part of the original Remote ID NPRM, which called for network-based (Internet) connection or the use of third-party UAS Service Suppliers, was removed. Remote Pilots have three ways of complying with Remote ID which, in its simplest form, is the concept that a drone should have a digital license plate:
1. Operate a standard Remote ID drone that broadcasts identification and location information of the drone and control station;
2. Operate a drone with a Remote ID broadcast module (may be a separate device attached to the drone), which broadcasts identification, location, and take-off information; or
3. Operate a drone without Remote ID but at specific FAA-recognized identification areas (FRIAs).
These rules will take effect 60 days after being published in the Federal Register, which is expected in January 2021, and apply to Part 107-certified and hobbyist operators of all drones that require registration. Anyone flying a drone weighing less than 0.55lbs (250g), such as a Mavic Mini, for example, or over 55lbs is exempt from Remote ID rulemaking. Homebuilt unmanned vehicles are also exempt but must operate in FRIAs.
How will it work? A Wi-Fi or Bluetooth signal will broadcast the location of both the control station (remote) and the drone’s latitude, longitude, geometric altitude and velocity to any nearby devices that are capable of receiving said broadcast. This means members of the public can view most details if they’re within range. Only local authorities and the FAA will be privy to operator information including session ID and the drone’s serial number.
Remote ID cannot be disabled by the operator either. The drone is required to self-test pre-flight and not take off if Remote ID isn’t functioning.
Manufacturers have 18 months (Summer 2022) to stop producing drones that aren’t compliant with Remote ID requirements. In 30 months, after Summer 2023, Remote ID will be mandatory for all qualifying drones in the U.S. Remote pilots basically have a two-and-a-half year time frame to get their technology up to date. Remote ID cannot be disabled by the operator either. The drone is required to self-test pre-flight and not take off if Remote ID isn’t functioning.
Operations at Night and Over People
The Operations at Night and Over People rule regulates the ability to fly at night and over people, contingent on the risk factor of each flight. It applies strictly to those with Part 107 certification. This rule eliminates the need for pilots to acquire individual Part 107 waivers from the FAA for these types of operation. The Executive Summary breaks down eligibility for flying over people and at night into four categories.
To summarize, drones must weigh less than 0.55lbs (250g) to fly over people. They must also must ‘not cause injury to a human being that is equivalent to or greater than the severity of injury caused by a transfer of 25 foot-pounds of kinetic energy upon impact from a rigid object, does not contain any exposed rotating parts that could lacerate human skin upon impact with a human being, and does not contain any safety defects.’
To safely operate at night, the drone must be equipped with anti-collision lights with visibility up to three statute miles.
Remote pilots must pass an updated initial or recurring knowledge test that will include questions on how to safely operate a drone at night. The FAA will do away with the requirement to renew Part 107 certification, in-person, every 24 months. Instead, online recurrent training that includes segments on nighttime operations will be offered free of charge. To safely operate at night, the drone must be equipped with anti-collision lights with visibility up to three statute miles.
Those operating a drone will also be required to have their remote pilot certificate and form of identification in their physical possession to present to the FAA and any Federal, State, or local law enforcement officer.
These rulings come at a time when drones are the fastest growing segment in the transportation sector. Currently there are over 1.7 million drone registrations and 203,000 certified remote pilots in the U.S. ‘The new rules make way for the further integration of drones into our airspace by addressing safety and security concerns,’ said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. ‘They get us closer to the day when we will more routinely see drone operations such as the delivery of packages.’