The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) on December 28, 2020, in a press release announced final rules for Unmanned Aircraft (“UA”), commonly known as drones. These final rules were published in the Federal Register on January 15, 2021, at 86 FR 4390, which established March 16, 2021 as the date upon which the rules will become final.
The first rule will require Remote Identification (“Remote ID”) of drones and allow operators of small drones to fly over people and at night under certain conditions. The FAA press release indicated that the new rule Remote ID rules are timely, since drones represent the fastest-growing segment in the entire transportation sector – with currently over 1.7 million drone registrations and 203,000 FAA-certificated remote pilots.
The FAA in its press release states that “Remote ID will help mitigate risks associated with expanded drone operations, such as flights over people and at night, and both rules support technological and operational innovation and advancements.”
The new rules should have a significant impact with respect to the development of the UAS industry. “The new rules make way for the further integration of drones into our airspace by addressing safety and security concerns,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. “They get us closer to the day when we will more routinely see drone operations such as the delivery of packages.”
The Remote ID rule (PDF) applies to all operators of drones that require FAA registration. There are three ways to comply with the operational requirements:
1. Operate a standard Remote ID drone that broadcasts identification and location information of the drone and control station;
2. Operate a drone with a Remote ID broadcast module (may be a separate device attached to the drone), which broadcasts identification, location, and take-off information; or
3. Operate a drone without Remote ID but at specific FAA-recognized identification areas.
See the link to the full text of the final rule at FAA’s
Remote ID webpage here.
There is one interesting note initially from a legal perspective. The FAA makes clear in the Remote ID Executive Summary in footnote 1 that the new Remote ID rules apply broadly to unmanned aircraft (“UA”) and not simply unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS”). Footnote 1 states in part:
The FAA does not use the terms unmanned aircraft system and unmanned aircraft interchangeably. The FAA uses the term unmanned aircraft as defined in 14 CFR 1.1 to refer specifically to the unmanned aircraft itself. The FAA uses the term unmanned aircraft system to refer to both the unmanned aircraft and any communication links and components that control the unmanned aircraft. As explained in section V.A of this rule, the FAA is adding the definition of unmanned aircraft system to 14 CFR part 1.
Given the extensive nature of this Remote ID final rule (124 pages in the Federal Register) further analysis of this final rule will follow.