In December 2019, the FAA released a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) for remote identification for UAS (unmanned aircraft systems, or drones). This is big news for the drone industry — private and commercial.

Skyward was one of the first to commend the FAA on its Remote ID NPRM. The proposed rule comes after numerous delays, but once it takes effect, it will change some of the hardware and software in your drones. And it has the potential to move us toward Universal Traffic Management for the airspace and open up greater opportunities for drone operators, like long-distance inspections.

The proposed rule is currently open for official public comment. My colleagues and I have been busy reviewing the 300+ page document so we can prepare a detailed technical response to the FAA and work with other members of the UAS industry to develop solutions that meet its requirements.

The proposed rule is just that — proposed — and the final rule could look different based on comments from stakeholders across the industry. Here is what you need to know about Remote ID, as envisioned by the FAA in its NPRM.

What is remote identification? A digital license plate for drones.

The core purpose of Remote ID is to provide the identity and location of a drone in flight — ideally to both regulators and operators. It’s frequently referred to as a digital license plate for drones. In crewed aviation, “N numbers” near the tail are used to identify aircraft, but most UAS are too small for visual identification. Instead, Remote ID will require a drone to share information electronically and require certain elements to be publicly available. Ideally, anyone will be able to know where drones are operating in the area, and in the case of an emergency or security risk, the operator can be identified.

Regulations for Remote ID have been years in the making. We’re excited to see it moving toward becoming a reality. For one thing, it’s the first step toward Universal Traffic Management (UTM), a system of systems capable of managing every aircraft in the sky. Yes, the FAA envisions UTM to be only Unmanned Traffic Management, but Verizon and Skyward believe UAS should be integrated into the National Airspace System (NAS) and managed alongside manned aircraft.

But while we wait for UTM, some great benefits are coming in the near future, too.

Why Remote ID? Safer airspace and expanded drone capabilities

The primary reason for Remote ID is to increase the safety and security of the NAS. Remote ID will help law enforcement protect airspace and infrastructure and enable the FAA to pursue enforcement actions against non-compliant drone operators.

Remote ID will also open the door to new capabilities, such as flights beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). Current regulations prohibit flights further than the operator’s unaided eye can see, in large part because of the inability to detect and avoid (DAA) other aircraft. Remote ID will provide digital tracking, and if implemented in the interconnected spirit of InterUSS will provide situational awareness of other drone operators in the vicinity.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, “These efforts lay the foundation for more complex operations, such as those beyond visual line of sight at low altitudes.” BVLOS flights will open up many new operations like long-distance transmission line or railway inspections, package delivery, agriculture surveys, and search & rescue.

How will Remote ID work? Connecting to the internet and broadcasting from the drone

This is where things get a bit technical. Drones complying with Remote ID protocols will share the following information:

  • Either the drone’s serial number or a randomized “Session ID”
  • Three-dimensional location of the aircraft
  • Three-dimensional location of the ground control station

The Session ID will be an option to protect the privacy of operators. This is useful for security-sensitive missions — for example, when performing vital infrastructure inspections. Even though Remote ID will show the locations of the aircraft and operator, both can remain anonymous. This is no different than the information available to the public for manned aircraft through free web and phone applications.

The rule proposes that drones be divided into three categories depending on their capabilities to share information:

Standard Remote Identification UAS

A Standard Remote Identification drone will broadcast its Remote ID signals over the air (unlicensed spectrum) and transmit them over an internet connection. These drones will be permitted to fly anywhere a small UAS is allowed to under other applicable regulations such as Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations

Limited Remote Identification UAS

A limited remote identification drone will only transmit the required elements over the internet, but cannot broadcast over the air. These drones will be limited to visual line of sight operations, and the FAA will require the manufacturer to limit such drones to fly within 400 feet of the operator.

UAS Without Remote Identification Equipment

A non-equipped UAS will not share Remote ID signals at all. These drones will only be permitted to operate in identified “FAA-Recognized Identification Areas.” These will mostly be model-type aircraft flown by hobbyists.

The FAA’s rule is “performance-based,” meaning it only identifies the regulatory requirements, but leaves implementation to industry. Drone manufacturers will need to develop “means of compliance” that will enable new or retrofitted UAS to send Remote ID messages, and it will have to be approved by the FAA. The FAA has noted, however, that ADS-B out (the standard for tracking in traditional aviation) is not permitted for Part 107 drone operations.

The issue of broadcast over the air versus transmission over the internet is one of the most contentious issues in the rule and has garnered numerous comments from stakeholders. Skyward believes transmission to the internet is vital to BVLOS operations and true integration of drones into the NAS. We will share detailed comments with the FAA, and we look forward to hearing from industry and the public on this issue.

Who will this rule affect? Everyone in the drone industry

The Remote ID rule, if implemented, will apply to all drones that are required to register with the FAA. That means any UAS over 0.55 pounds will have to comply (including recreational drones) and all drones used in non-recreational operations regardless of weight.

The greatest effect is likely to be on drone manufacturers, who will be required to integrate Remote ID into the aircraft itself. But pilots with existing aircraft will certainly need to pay attention, too — eventually, aircraft without Remote ID capabilities will be prohibited from flying outside of FAA-Recognized Identification Areas.

Remote ID will be operationalized by UAS Service Suppliers (USS), much in the way USS developed and offer services for LAANC. These are private companies that work with the FAA to provide these services to consumers.

When will the rule be in place? Not just yet, but soon

Currently, the proposed rule is in an open comment period, allowing the public to submit feedback to the FAA. The comment period closes on March 2, 2020. While there is no word on when this rule might go into effect, or how long revisions might take, do not expect a final rule this calendar year.

The FAA has proposed a “grace period” after the rule becomes final before operators must use Remote ID. Two years after the adoption of the rule, all new UAS will be required to conform to the Remote ID standards. And three years after the rule, all drones without Remote ID will be prohibited from flying outside of FAA-Recognized Identification Areas

The FAA has recommended an approach similar to LAANC, in which industry members were selected to develop the operational parameters and be the first approved USS. This official process should start soon, but Skyward has the technical capability to implement Remote ID and has already participated in an InterUSS demonstration of connected Remote ID.

Skyward and Verizon are ready for the future of connected drones

Skyward is excited to see what our customers will be able to do as Remote ID regulations increase the safety of the NAS and open the door to advanced drone operations. Skyward is an FAA-approved UAS Service Supplies (USS) for LAANC, and our software already integrates the FAA’s LAANC capability. We look forward to providing Remote ID services as well.

As a Verizon company, we’re backed by the nation’s most reliable wireless network. Verizon will allow virtually all operators to access the internet and connect drones to the wireless network. This isn’t just for Remote ID and BVLOS flights, but for all operational needs — and one day maybe even remote deployments and one-to-many control.

Drone operations and in-flight data transfer are already possible over a cellular connection, and Verizon is the only company to offer a wireless data plan certified for airborne uses, through its Airborne LTE Operations. We are researching and developing the optimizations required to bring the same high-quality service of land-based Verizon access to drones in the air. Even if you aren’t connected to Verizon LTE today, and you aren’t ready to seek 5G solutions, Skyward still has a lot to offer — we can help you launch your drone operations and open the sky.

Want to learn more about connected drones? Download our guide: The Near Future of Connected Drones.