The FAA’s NPRM for Remote ID: Part One, the Basics

We’ve got a lot of material to cover on these important rules, so let’s jump right in.

Remote identification (RID) is the FAA’s “license plate in the sky” for UAS that, once implemented, will pave the way for a host of advanced unmanned capabilities: beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), operations over people (OOP), night-time operations, swarming ops, and UTM, among others. For the UAS industry and profession to move forward safely and successfully (read: profitably), RID technology is a must.

Timeline: The notice of proposed rule-making (NPRM) document was officially rolled out December 26, 2019 for a 60-day comment period. All comments need to be forwarded to the FAA by March 2, 2020. Here’s the link to the document and the protocols and procedures for commenting.

After the public commenting period closes, the FAA begins the task of rule-making; this is predicted to take approximately 18 months. After final rules are created, the FAA has declared a period of three years to fully implement the rules; after that it becomes the law of the land.

Whom does it affect? All commercial and recreational UAS—except those owned by the U.S. government, amateur-built aircraft, and UAS above .55 pounds (249 grams)—will have to comply.

How to comply. The FAA has proposed two methods for compliance: Standard remote identification UAS and limited remote identification UAS. Quoting directly from the NPRM:

1) “Standard remote identification UAS would be required to broadcast identification and location information directly from the unmanned aircraft and simultaneously transmit that same information to a Remote ID USS through an internet connection.”

For UAS operators flying commercial missions, the standard RID method would make the most sense. Since no UAS is currently compatible with these requirements, operators would need to either purchase new craft that are RID-compatible or have their existing platforms retrofitted with the necessary gear to bring them into compliance. It is important to note that the FAA does not want to see “add-on” solutions (plug-in dongles, for example); it will accept only built-in solutions that would be harder for end users to circumvent.

2) “Limited remote identification UAS would be required to transmit information through the internet only, with no broadcast requirements; however, the unmanned aircraft would be designed to operate no more than 400 feet from the control station.”

Most observers find the 400-foot limit to be wholly inadequate and would allow only the minimum of operations, real estate photography of a single home, for example. Upside? No radio beacon required,” only internet access.

3) Don’t want to take part in RID? The FAA has a third option for non-compliant UAS: “UAS without remote identification capabilities would be permitted to fly only at certain specific geographic areas established under this rule specifically to accommodate them.”

These are referred to as FAA-Recognized Identification Areas (FRIAs). A good example is AMA flying fields; the closest one to me is a four hour round trip. So, if you bought a “flying camera” to pursue amateur photography, without RID you’ll be limited to taking photos of a flying field. So deal with it or buy a sub-249 gram UAS like the popular Mavic Mini.

Expect to see a flood of the sub-249 gram UAS on the market in the coming years—the rule is: If it doesn’t need to be registered, it’s not subject to the FAA RID rules. (Exception: sub-249 gram UAS that are being employed for commercial uses.)

For the rest of the story, including costs, privacy factors, and overall pros and cons, see part two of this series next month. In the meantime, I heartily recommend you download and read these proposed rules at this link.

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This article appeared in xyHt‘s e-newsletter, Pangaea. We email it once a month, and it covers a variety of unusual geospatial topics in a conversational tone. You’re welcome to subscribe to the e-newsletter here. (You’ll also receive the once-monthly Field Notes newsletter with your subscription.)

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