Last week, I had the chance to participate as a panelist in Skyward’s webinar, Remote ID: Your Questions, Answered. Along with my colleagues, I gave an overview of the FAA’s proposed rule for remote identification of drones and fielded several questions about Remote ID. I will also be addressing this subject as panelist for Commercial UAV News’s webinar, “How Will NPRM Comments to the FAA Shape the Future of Remote ID for Drones?” on Tuesday, March 17.

While we were able to answer many of the industry’s top questions during Skyward’s webinar, we didn’t have time to answer all of the questions we received — or dive deeply into all the answers. So I’ve compiled below the top 10 questions from the webinar, which address some of the most commonly discussed provisions of the proposed rule.

Let’s dive in.

1) When will Remote ID take effect? How long before my drone has to meet Remote ID requirements?

Currently, the Remote ID rule is only a proposed rule, and is open for public comment until March 2nd. The FAA will then review the comments and make any changes they feel are necessary before publishing a final rule. We expect it to be at least a year before the final rule is published.

Following publication, Remote ID will be rolled out gradually. Here is the timeline proposed in the rule:

  • The first day of the month to fall 60 days after publication: the rule goes into effect
  • 24 months after effective date: drone manufacturers must include Remote ID on their aircraft
  • 36 months after effective date: all drone operators must comply with Remote ID

For example, if the final rule is published on June 15, 2021, the effective date will be September 1, 2021. After August 31, 2023, manufacturers can only produce drones that are Remote ID capable, and on September 1, 2024, drone operators will be required to use Remote ID. Of course, these timelines could change depending on what is actually adopted in the final rule.

2) How will Remote ID signals be sent? What equipment is needed to receive Remote ID signals?

Remote ID signals will primarily be transmitted through the internet. Any internet-connected device with authority to access the USS and message elements should be able to access Remote ID information.

In addition to internet transmissions, standard remote identification UAS must also broadcast Remote ID information directly from the drone, sort of like the way radio broadcasts or walkie talkie messages are sent out over the air and anyone with a receiver can access the signal. The standards for how the Remote ID broadcasting are left up to manufacturers, but that proposed rule does require that the information must be accessible with a common consumer device, like a cell phone. It is likely that manufacturers will use a bluetooth, WiFi, or LTE Direct signal from the drone that can be picked up by phones or tablets in the field.

Addresses and personal information like phone numbers are not included in the proposed Remote ID message elements that must be transmitted. Remote ID messages include the UAS serial number or an anonymized session ID number, but the personal information of the drone owner and operator, provided to the FAA through UAS registration, will only be available to law enforcement.

Skyward and Verizon will follow all applicable privacy laws and FAA privacy requirements, as well as Verizon’s own strict privacy requirements.

3) If I don’t have cellular coverage (for example, in rural areas), will I be able to comply with Remote ID? What if I lose cell coverage mid-flight?

The proposed rule allows for drone flight even where connecting to the internet isn’t possible. Standard remote identification UAS, as defined in the Remote ID rule, will both broadcast Remote ID information directly from the drone, while also transmitting it over the internet. Under the rules for standard Remote ID, a drone operator is allowed to take off or continue a flight without an internet connection so long as the operator is broadcasting the Remote ID information. 

On the other hand, limited remote identification UAS, which applies to drones that are operated in close proximity to the operator, will not be capable of taking off without an internet connection. If a limited Remote ID drone loses connection to the internet while in flight, the pilot is required to land the drone as soon as possible.

4) Will my current drone be able to comply with Remote ID? If not, will firmware updates be enough? If I need new hardware, will options be available to retrofit my aircraft?

That depends on the drone that you have. Under the proposed rule, USS (UAS Service Suppliers) and manufacturers will need to work with the FAA to create functional standards for Remote ID. What exactly that will look like, and how each USS will implement it, is yet to be determined.

However, many modern drones likely already have the necessary hardware for Remote ID, and will only require firmware and/or software updates to activate those capabilities. For example, many UAS ground control stations integrate a tablet or smartphone that can transmit data over the internet. Once a software update is installed, the drone’s GCS will be able to transmit the required Remote ID information to a designated USS.

If additional hardware is needed, manufacturers and service providers will likely develop technologies to retrofit existing drones to comply with Remote ID.

5) Who will be able to read Remote ID information? Will it be publicly available?

For a standard remote identification UAS, the location of the drone and the controller (and thus the pilot) will be available to the public. For a limited remote identification UAS, only the location of the controller is required, although the drone must remain within 400 feet of the operator.

No names, personally identifiable information (other than the required location data), or phone numbers will be publicly available. Remote ID message data will include either the drone registration number or an anonymous session ID. Only law enforcement will be able to associate the information in the FAA’s Drone Registration Database with a drone’s Remote ID information.

6) Will my aircraft need an onboard internet connection? Or can the aircraft relay Remote ID to the internet through the controller?

Your drone won’t necessarily need an onboard internet connection, although this will depend on the specific aircraft. A ground control system that can receive real-time message elements from the drone and transfer the message elements to a tablet, smartphone, or other internet-connected device would meet the requirements proposed in the Remote ID rule. However, the manufacturer is not required to enable this feature, and it is just one possible method of compliance.

For long distance flights, especially those beyond visual line of sight, the aircraft will most likely need an onboard internet connection since it will by flying beyond the range of its controller. In this case, it would almost certainly transmit messages through an onboard connection.

7) How much will Remote ID cost? Will I have to subscribe to a service?

While the proposed rule does make a cost estimate on pricing, it does not propose any rules regarding pricing. Instead, the proposed rule leaves the elements of implementation up to the individual UAS Service Suppliers (USS).

The FAA plans to announce an initial group of companies that will work with the FAA to develop the technical implementation framework and potentially become FAA-approved USS. These private companies will work with the FAA to develop business models for Remote ID USS services.

It’s too soon to be able to accurately estimate costs to operators, but here are some key factors to consider:

  • The FAA itself isn’t proposing any costs that will be imposed on operators.
  • Just as with LAANC, different USS will likely offer different levels of service to support Remote ID, and some might be at no cost.
  • What business models USS develop, and how manufacturers or USS will implement Remote ID, is to be determined.

8) Is it true that drones flown by U.S. government agencies won’t have to use Remote ID? Will there be any other way to fly without Remote ID?

Under the proposed rules, the only drones that don’t have to be registered with the FAA and transmit Remote ID messages are those owned by the U.S. Armed Forces, or any drone weighing less than 0.55 pounds.

The only other exceptions are drones built for certain types of research and those owned by the federal government, but only if they apply for special permission from the FAA to operate without Remote ID. We are not aware of any mechanism or plan for broad exceptions to the Remote ID rule for drones outside the Department of Defense.

Note that the federal government exception does not apply to drones owned or operated by any other government entity, such as state, county, or local government organizations, including public safety organizations. 

Additionally, under the proposed rule, non-excepted unmanned aircraft without Remote ID will be permitted to fly within FAA Recognized Identification Areas (FRIAs), which are areas designated for that purpose by the FAA through an application process by the landowner.

9) Why are drones prohibited from using ADS-B Out?

In the proposed rule, the FAA set forth several reasons for not allowing remote ID messages to transmit via ADS-B, including:

  • lack of low-altitude coverage by ADS-B receivers
  • lack of a GCS location message element
  • Use of ADS-B by UAS would create an undue saturation of signal and impact manned aviation safety

10) I fly drones outside the U.S. How will this rule affect me?

The proposed Remote ID rule is specific only to drone operations within the U.S. Many organizations and working groups are discussing global standards and rules for safe integration of drones into global airspace. Skyward is a founding member of one of those groups: GUTMA — the Global UTM Association.

Learn more about Remote ID for Drones

Check out the recording, slides, and transcript of the webinar.