Remote ID in plain language
FAA released their final rule for drone Remote Identification (Part 89). There’s a lot of questions and even some misinformation floating around. I read the 470 pages and sum up the regulation-policy-speak as best I can.
The normal disclaimers: I’m not a lawyer, and this is my personal analysis.
If you’re here for the Q&A, like how much will this cost me? or is my current drone compliant? Just skip to the end!
Why Remote ID?
The first thing to understand is why the FAA is issuing a rule for Remote ID.
The point of this rule is to allow national security and law enforcement to detect and catch people doing bad things.
How do I know? It is on the very first page:
The remote identification of unmanned aircraft in the airspace of the United States will address safety, national security, and law enforcement concerns regarding the further integration of these aircraft into the airspace of the United States
The primary motivation for Remote ID is to appease the security agencies so that the FAA is unblocked to expand the use of drones in the US. The argument goes: if we can detect and catch bad actors, then the security agencies will go along with allowing drones to do more things (like operations over people, or operations at night). Why does the FAA need to do this? Because Congress told them to in the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Bill.
In 2017, the FAA created an industry Identification Advisory and Rulemaking Committee (ARC) and one of the working groups was specifically focused on “the requirements for meeting the security and public safety needs of the law enforcement, homeland defense, and national security communities for the remote ID and tracking of UAS.” It is clear that the security community is motivating the Remote ID rule.
As further evidence, the original Part 107 rule references national security 31 times and law enforcement 25 times. Most of those references are to make a claim that UAS pose no threat under Part 107 to national security. In the Remote Identification rule, national security is referenced 46 times and law enforcement 209 times.
It is important to understand that the purpose of Remote ID is to satisfy needs from national security and law enforcement. While some elements of the rule can be used to further airspace safety, air traffic services, and enable more complex drone operations like Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS), those are not the primary motivators.
What does the rule require?
Let’s assume we are going to be compliant with Remote ID (and not operate without Remote ID, which is only permissible in a FRIA — out of scope for now).
To be compliant, you must:
- Register your drone
- Have a drone with Remote ID Accepted Means of Compliance or a module on the drone with Remote ID Accepted Means of Compliance (details below) (89.110)
- Not takeoff if Remote ID is not working (89.110 & 89.115)
- Not use ADS-B (89.125)
- Register for Remote ID notifications and receive a “Confirmation of Identification” with your name, phone number, email address, physical address, mailing address, manufacturer, model, serial number, country of registry, and registration number (89.130)
What wireless technology can be used? Anything allowed under 15 CFR 47 where an FCC license is not required. What does this realistically mean? Each drone manufacturer can choose what they use — wifi (802.11b/g/n/ac/etc varieties), bluetooth, or even proprietary 2.4GHz, 5GHz, or 900MHz transmitters. Yes, there’s no standard wireless frequency or protocol required by the rule.
The Remote ID broadcast must include (89.305):
- Identity (serial number or session id)
- Control station latitude, longitude, and geometric altitude (position accurate to 100 feet, altitude to 15 feet)
- Drone latitude, longitude, geometric altitude, and velocity (position accurate to 100 feet, altitude to 15 feet)
- Time (in UTC)
- Emergency status (unclear how this will be used)
What format will used to broadcast the data?
This is not specified at all, since it is a performance specification. The manufacturer can broadcast in any format. Furthermore, the information submitted by the manufacturer to the FAA for the Means of Compliance will not be disclosed: “the Agency is not planning on publicly disclosing the details or specification of any FAA-accepted means of compliance or related documents because they may contain proprietary data or commercially valuable information.” (p206)
All is not lost though — the FAA will disclose the frequency and broadcast message elements:
The FAA may disclose the non-proprietary broadcast specification and radio frequency spectrum so that sufficient information is available to develop receiving and processing equipment and software for the FAA, law enforcement, and members of the public. (p14)
I predict a number of small companies will pop up with the sole purpose of decoding the multitude of random Remote ID formats that emerge.
There is some optimism that industry will develop a standard for Remote ID message data, although I don’t see strong reasons for all of the industry players to do this. First, there’s no intrinsic commercial benefit to Remote ID messages for industry (aside from a few companies that provide services to law enforcement). Second, with one drone manufacturer capturing 70–80% of the market, adoption will hinge on that party (waving at you DJI). The FAA thinks that ASTM will update F3411–19 “in as little as 6 months” and “for these reasons, the rule establishes an 18-month compliance date.” (p330)
To sum up
Any wireless technology is OK as long as an FCC license isn’t required.
Data can be broadcast in any format of the manufacturer’s choosing as long as it includes all the elements. The FAA hopes industry will agree on a standard.
How will that work? What’s the catch?
“Means of Compliance”
For a drone to be flown under Part 89, it must have an Accepted Means of Compliance. Basically the drone manufacturer submits all the information in Part 89 Subpart F to the FAA, and waits for a response. If it is accepted, they submit a Declaration of Compliance, and drones can be flown under Part 89.
The question is, what process will the FAA use to accept Means of Compliance submissions? This is the subject of a very short, and very detail-free draft Advisory Circular.
Essentially, a manufacturer of a drone or module submits documentation for how they meet the minimum performance requirements. The FAA then has free rein at their discretion to accept or deny. It will be very interesting to see how this ultimately works out. I wouldn’t want to be first in line to submit.
The FAA is hopeful that industry will all get along and agree on a standard, they’ll accept it as a Means of Compliance, and everyone will adopt it.
FAA-accepted consensus standards are one way, but not the only way, to show compliance with the performance requirements of this rule. Accordingly, the FAA encourages consensus standards bodies to develop means of compliance and submit them to the FAA for acceptance. (p13)
Note that companies must retain records for 24 months beyond the end of offering Remote ID capabilities, and must agree to independent audits at the request of the FAA.
Questions & Answers
Got questions? Leave them in the comments. Here’s ones I’ve heard from people (*people = Twitter).
Is my existing drone compliant?
Yes and no. Until your drone model has an Accepted Means of Compliance, it is not compliant. Don’t worry, you have 18 months for your manufacturer to get their stuff together.
Your current drone likely does NOT need any new hardware or modules. They have 15 CFR 47-compliant wireless already built in (eg, wifi). Assuming your drone manufacturer issues a firmware update and has an Accepted Means of Compliance, then all you need to do is register your drone and register for notifications.
I expect this will be the most common path. It is in the FAA’s interest to get as many people to comply with the rule as possible. With DJI holding 70–80% market share and wireless onboard, it would make sense that DJI would get an Accepted Means of Compliance and BOOM most drones would be covered. DJI has a 2017 white paper that proposes broadcast Remote ID using wireless already on their drones, so I expect they will go this route.
When do I have to be compliant with Remote ID?
Manufacturers have 18 months to become compliant. Drone pilots aren’t subject to the regulation for 30 months. That’s August 2023.
What if I have a DJI Mini / Mini 2?
Then Remote ID doesn’t apply to you! It only applies to drones that must be registered, which weight 250g or more. The Mini weights 249g and does not need to be registered and thus does not need to comply with Remote ID.
How much will Remote ID cost me?
Assuming you have a DJI or Skydio, probably nothing (other than the $5 FAA registration fee).
If your drone doesn’t have Remote ID, you’ll need to buy a module to retrofit it. It isn’t clear how much these cost, but conceivably they could be made for $10–20. The expensive part is all the labor of getting the Means of Compliance, which will lead to big markups. The FAA estimates these modules will cost $50 (p377).
How hard will it be to retrofit?
I actually think retrofit will be pretty easy. The modules are only required to broadcast information that they can observe themselves (mainly GPS info). Combine that with an app on your phone (the control station) that talks to the Remote ID module. As long as the app tells you when Remote ID isn’t working, and the app tells the module where the control station is located, you should be good to go. Some duct tape or a glue gun and a small battery would be all you need.
Will there be subscription fees?
Probably not. Since Remote ID dropped the “network” component, there’s no reason that manufacturers will charge to broadcast the information. I expect that even if someone does try to charge, someone else will offer it for free and the rest of the market will eventually be forced to follow. The cost of Remote ID will be built into the drone that you buy, so expect drone prices to go up by a little bit instead ($10–20 at least) to cover the costs of development and Means of Compliance.
Subscription fees are not mentioned at all in the FAA cost model, so the FAA does not expect drone pilots will be charged a Remote ID subscription fee.
Why was “network” Remote ID dropped?
Largely for 2 reasons: (1) recreational fliers and flyers in remote areas hated this idea, and submitted a ton of comments saying that they shouldn’t have to connect to the internet to fly their drone, and (2) there was a chicken and egg problem about how the network would be interoperable between drone manufactures and Remote ID service suppliers (USS) (p60).
Is “network” Remote ID dead?
Not necessarily. 89.105 allows for exceptions “as otherwise authorized by the Administrator.” This means we may see companies that request an exception to broadcast Remote ID if they provide the same capability by another means — like a network.
Will there be changes to Part 89?
This is the first Remote ID rule. It was necessary to unblock the other activities that the FAA wants to allow. Expect that it will be amended, possibly before we even see the first Remote ID drones. Take a look at how much Part 107 has now been amended. Programs like LAANC have gone through 5 revisions now, so expect the Means of Compliance to be revved regularly too.
How can I operate at night without a waiver?
Ok, this has nothing to do with Remote ID, but I thought it was interesting. The Operations at Night rule allows Part 107 pilots to fly at night provided they have:
- Passed an aeronautical knowledge exam after it has been updated to include information about night flight. (44 days after publishing in the federal register)
- The drone has anti-collision lights that are visible for 3+ statute miles.
That’s it! Pretty cool. Now the question is: how can we get airspace authorization (LAANC) at night? Looking at you, FAA program office.