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Friend or Foe Drones: FAA to Require Remote ID “Digital License Plate”

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by Kelly A. Daly

On December 28, 2020, the FAA released the Remote Identification of Unmanned Aircraft Final Rule. This long-awaited Remote ID rule, identified as the next incremental step to integrating drones into the National Airspace System, requires the broadcasting of drone information that is crucial for airspace awareness, accountability, safety and security.

Drone operators will have three options for complying with this rulemaking. The first contemplates a self-contained, standard Remote ID drone that broadcasts, via radio frequency, information including the unmanned aircraft’s serial number, latitude/longitude, altitude, velocity, emergency status, time mark and the latitude/longitude of the operator’s control station. The second option authorizes the use of existing drones, which currently do not have broadcast capability, provided that the drone is retrofit with a Remote ID Broadcast Module which transmits the same information and is operated within visual line of sight at all times. The third option for complying with this rule simply restricts those drones that are not equipped with Remote ID technology to only fly in designated FAA-recognized identification areas (FRIA). Under this latter approach, the FAA is allowing community-based organizations and educational institutions to apply for approved FRIAs where drones will be permitted to operate within the boundaries and within the visual line of sight of the drone operator.

This rule applies to drone operators as well as designers and manufacturers. Specifically, the FAA is imposing performance-based requirements on the development and operation of the Remote ID broadcast technology that will be used on drones. Prior to the development and sale of this technology, the FAA is requiring its seal of approval, in the form of an accepted means of compliance which will be published for public notice thereby alerting consumers that the drone is operational consistent with FAA regulations.

As for the timing of these new regulations, the effective dates are calculated off the publication date of this Final Rule in the Federal Register. Assuming such publication occurs this week, all drones operated within the U.S. must be in compliance with this new rule by September, 2023, and after September 2022, the production of non-compliant drones for operation in the U.S. must cease.

A copy of the Final Rule can be found here.