Today, nearly 1.5 million drones and 160,000 remote pilots are registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and these numbers are growing every day. However, the lack of a comprehensive system to remotely ID drones has been a long-standing barrier to the adoption of commercial drones used to deliver packages, conduct industrial inspections, or assist in search and rescue missions.
To ensure the safety of our airspace, we need a way to track registered drones and quickly identify unauthorized aircraft. That’s where remote ID technology comes into play.
In case you missed it, the FAA recently proposed new rules that would require drones to be remotely identifiable in the United States. We’ll break down the basics of remote ID, why it’s important, and what the proposed rules mean for commercial drone operators.
What is remote ID?
Remote ID technology helps identify unmanned aircraft operating in the airspace. A comprehensive remote ID system could enable every drone inflight to transmit or broadcast a unique identifier that can be tracked in a shared database in near real-time.
Why is remote ID important for drones?
There are several different approaches to identify and track the growing number of drones in the airspace. But why is this technology important in the first place?
For starters, remote ID for drones can provide situational awareness to other aircraft and identify unauthorized vehicles that may pose a security threat. A remote ID system can also help law enforcement hold drone operators accountable if they violate any nuisance or privacy laws.
Secondly, remote ID efforts will help lay the foundation for more complex commercial drone operations, such as flying beyond visual line of sight, over people, or at night. Without a waiver, these operations are not allowed under the FAA’s current Part 107 regulations. A remote identification network is the first step to expand these advanced operations without requiring a waiver.
Finally, a comprehensive remote ID system has the potential to help increase public trust in commercial drone operations by providing information about which drones are operating nearby and who is operating them.
What are the FAA’s proposed remote ID rules?
In a nutshell, the FAA’s proposed rules provide a framework for remote identification of all unmanned aircraft systems operating in the United States airspace. The rules would facilitate the collection and storage of certain UAS data, such as a drone’s identity, location, altitude, and control station.
How would drone operators comply?
According to the proposed rules, drone operators in the United States would have to meet the remote identification requirements in one of three ways:
- Standard remote identification – In this instance, the drone must connect to the internet and transmit its identifying information to a Remote ID UAS Service Supplier. The drone must also broadcast this information via radio frequency from takeoff to landing.
- Limited remote identification – If the drone is not capable of broadcasting its identifying information via radio frequency, it must operate within 400 feet of its control station and within visual line of sight. However, the drone still needs to be capable of connecting to the internet and transmitting its identifying information to a Remote ID UAS Service Supplier.
- FAA-recognized identification area – If the drone does not have remote identification capabilities, it must operate within the pilot’s visual line of sight and within a FAA-recognized identification area. Once the rules are in effect, the FAA plans to maintain a list of eligible areas where drones without remote identification can operate.
What is a Remote ID UAS Service Supplier?
Remote ID UAS Service Suppliers, qualified by the FAA, would collect and store the required remote identification information on behalf of drone operators. The suppliers would perform this service under contract with the FAA based on the same model the FAA currently uses for the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC).
For example, as a UAS Service Supplier of LAANC, SkyGrid is approved by the FAA to provide LAANC services and help automate the application process for airspace authorizations. Once the proposed remote ID rules are finalized, UAS Service Suppliers (USS) may be qualified as both a Remote ID USS and a LAANC USS.
What identifying information would be required under the proposed rules?
To meet the proposed Remote ID rules, the following identifying information would be required for standard remote identification of drones.
- UAS Identification – This establishes the unique identity of a drone operating in the U.S. airspace. This identifier could either be the serial number assigned by the drone manufacturer or a session ID assigned by a Remote ID UAS Service Supplier.
- Control Station Location – The latitude and longitude of the drone’s control station, used by the FAA and authorized entities to locate the operator when necessary for safety or security reasons.
- Aircraft Altitude – The drone’s barometric pressure altitude, used to provide situational awareness to other aircraft, both manned and unmanned, operating nearby.
- Time Mark – A record of time that shows when a drone was at a particular set of coordinates. A time mark for the position of the control station would also apply.
- Indication of Emergency Status – A code that indicates the drone’s emergency status, which could include lost-link, downed aircraft, or other abnormal status. This could be initiated manually by the pilot or automatically by the drone.
How would I protect the privacy of sensitive drone data?
Under the propose rules, commercial drone operators could partner with a Remote ID UAS Service Supplier to provide the identifying information to the FAA. Only the required information would be considered publicly accessible. The FAA would not have access to any other information collected by a Remote ID USS.
However, some businesses operating drones may be concerned with the collection and analysis of flight information by their competitors. By working with a Remote ID USS, drone operators can transmit a session ID rather than a serial number for an added layer of operational privacy. When a session ID is issued, only the FAA and authorized entities, such as law enforcement, could correlate the session ID to the drone serial number and registration data.
To further protect sensitive flight data, SkyGrid is powering its aerial operating system with blockchain technology. The decentralized nature of the system provides more security and privacy than traditional centralized storage because there’s not one database a bad actor can compromise. Each flight log is linked to the previous log with cryptography so they can’t be maliciously tampered or altered retroactively.
Who do the proposed remote ID rules apply to?
Within the U.S. airspace, all recreational and commercial drone operators would be required to comply. The only exceptions are for amateur-built drones, unmanned aircraft operated by the U.S. government, and drones that weigh less than 0.55 pounds. Manufacturers will also be required to produce drones in accordance with the performance and design requirements for standard remote identification or limited remote identification.
When do the proposed rules go into effect?
The FAA is currently seeking public input to develop a final rule to enhance the safety of the U.S airspace. The comment period for public feedback will close March 2, 2020. If the rule is finalized, manufacturers would have two years to comply, and drone operators would have three years to phase out non-compliant vehicles.
Ultimately, the proposed Remote ID rules have global implications as other national airspace authorities look to implement their own set of airspace rules and regulations. As a UAS Service Supplier of LAANC, SkyGrid is looking forward to further partnering with the FAA to help shape remote ID standards and safely integrate drones in the global airspace.