The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is set to publish its long-awaited notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) for remote identification of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) on December 31. The resulting new rules, which are expected to be fully implemented by the end of 2024, will provide a key foundation for UAS to be integrated into the U.S. National Airspace System.
The NPRM (FAA-2019-100) will give the industry until March 2, 2020, to provide comments. The final rule will require remote identification for the majority of UAS, with exceptions to be made for some amateur-built UAS, aircraft operated by the U.S. government, and UAS weighing less than 0.55 pounds.
The core requirement is that UAS can provide “certain identification and location information that people on the ground and other airspace users can receive.” The FAA is proposing three compliance methods: standard identification, limited identification, and operations without remote identification to be permitted within an “FAA-recognized identification zone.”
Under standard remote identification, aircraft would have to broadcast identification and location information and simultaneously transmit the same information to an approved UAS service supplier (USS). Identification can be based on the aircraft’s individual serial number or a “session identification number” that would be assigned by the USS and would allow the operator a greater level of privacy.
Remote ID USS service providers would be under contract to the FAA, under an operating model similar to that already applied by the agency for Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability being approved for a growing number of U.S. airports. Companies such as Altitude Angel and AirMap have been preparing to provide the required USS infrastructure and support capability.
Under limited identification, operators would have to broadcast only the location of each UAS but would be permitted to operate only within 400 feet of a ground-based control station. Aircraft without remote identification capability that are not covered by the limited exceptions to the new rule, would be confined to FAA-recognized identification zones established within specific communities.
Significantly, the FAA will not permit either existing electronic surveillance technologies, including transponders and automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B), or radio communications with air traffic control services, to be used for UAS remote identification. The agency decided that these potential solutions were unsuitable, “due to the lack of infrastructure for these technologies at lower altitudes and the potential saturation of the available radio frequency spectrum.”
The FAA’s decision not to allow compliance through these existing technologies is a significant factor explaining the three-year transition period between the effective date of the final rule and full implementation. Earlier in 2019, the FAA indicated that the effective date would likely be in late 2021.
Some industry observers have indicated that the relatively slow timeline for implementing the rule could slow the pace of service entry for some commercial UAS operations and autonomous aircraft being prepared for so-called urban air mobility services.
In response to the NPRM, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) said that effective implementation of remote identification requirements will be critical to the anticipated growth of the UAS industry. “While we are still reviewing the details of the proposed remote identification rule, we are pleased that the FAA is finally moving forward with rulemaking for remote ID standards after four delays,” commented AUVSI president Brian Wynne. “We have long called for the establishment and implementation of these standards, which will increase the safety and security of the airspace and advance the UAS industry beyond what is currently possible. The importance of remote ID regulations cannot be overstated, as they are necessary to enable advanced and expanded operations such as flights over people and beyond line of sight. They also serve as the linchpin needed for future rulemakings that will pave the way for transformative uses of UAS with significant benefits for our economy and society, including widespread UAS delivery. Finally, remote ID will also help law enforcement identify and distinguish authorized UAS from those that may pose a security threat.”