Tuesday, December 31, 2019

FAA Published UAS Remote Identification NPRM

Today the DOT’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) in the Federal Register (84 FR 72438-72524) [Note: this link is very slow to load today, an alternate that works] that would require the remote identification of unmanned aircraft systems.


The new rule would require the classification of nearly all (amateur-built UAS and UAS weighing less than 0.55-lbs would be exempt) unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in the United states into one of three categories:

Limited remote operation UAS (LRO/UAS); and

The application of these categories depends on the ability of the UAS to broadcast its identifying information. Two means of broadcast are being defined in the rulemaking:

• Connecting to the internet (typically via the UAS control station) and transmitting through that internet connection to a Remote ID UAS Service Supplier (USS); and
• Broadcasting directly from the unmanned aircraft.

An SRO/UAS would be capable of utilizing both means of communications. An LRO/UAS would only be capable of using the internet connection mode. Needless to say, the third category would have neither communication mode available; subsequently, they would only be allowed to operate within an FAA-recognized identification area.

All three categories of UAS would be required to be individually registered with the FAA. Those currently exempted from individual UAS registration under 14 CFR 48.100(b) would be required to submit individual UAS registrations including: manufacturer, model, and, if the unmanned aircraft is a standard or limited remote identification unmanned aircraft, the aircraft's serial number.

UAS manufacturers would be required to:

• Issue each unmanned aircraft a serial number that complies with the ANSI/CTA-2063-A serial number standard.
• Label the unmanned aircraft to indicate that it is remote identification compliant and indicate whether the UAS is standard remote identification or limited remote identification.
• Submit a declaration of compliance for acceptance by the FAA, declaring that the UAS complies with the requirements of the proposed rule.

Communications Standards

The FAA has not established a specific communications standard for either of the communication modes required in the NPRM. It would, however, specifically prohibit the use of ADS-B Out and transponders for nearly all UAS operations. The FAA expects the UAS industry to develop the required standards and has provided minimum performance requirements for such systems.

UAS Service Supplier

The FAA would not provide USS services directly. The FAA envisions that the USS would be a service provider qualified by the Administrator to provide remote identification services to UAS. The USS would operate under a contractual agreement with the FAA to provide those services. They would be required to be able to demonstrate the ability:

• To share the remote identification message elements in near real-time with the FAA upon request;
• To maintain remote identification information securely and to limit access to such information;
• To meet contractually-established technical parameters; and
• To inform the FAA when their services are active and inactive.

Effective Date

Because the development of the communications standards and equipment would take some amount of time to accomplish, the NPRM envisions that the effective date of the final rule would be three years after its publication.


The FAA is soliciting comments on this NPRM. Comments may be submitted vial the Federal eRulemaking Portal (www.Regulations.gov; Docket # FAA-2019-1100). Comments should be submitted before March 2, 2020.


The need for the FAA and/or police agencies to be able to identify UAS in flight is becoming ever more apparent. This rulemaking is a rather minimalistic (if very wordy) attempt at making that possible without ruffling too many feathers. The big problem that is not directly addressed in this NPRM is that a large number of UAS of all sizes are flying in US airspace today without the capability to comply with this rulemaking. Commercial UAS makers will probably be able retrofit the requisite communications equipment with relatively minimal costs.

The problem is going to be the very large number (millions?) of small UAS in the hands of private individuals; most of them will never be upgradeable. Even if they were, it is likely that large numbers of the owners would not make the effort to upgrade them and the FAA does not have the enforcement personnel to make a dent in that non-compliance rate.

This is part of the reason that Congress initially exempted ‘model aircraft’ from FAA registration requirements in §336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. The FAA found a way around that exemption when the published their interim final rule on UAS registration in 2016; instead of registering the actual UAS they required hobby UAS operators to register under §48.100(b). While the courts temporarily nullified that registration requirement, Congress more clearly mandated the exemption in adding 49 USC 44809 and repealed the earlier language. While eliminating the term ‘model aircraft’ §44809 introduced the ‘limited recreational operations’ terminology that the FAA is using in this NPRM.

Now Congress left a way out for the FAA to conduct these registration activities in §44809(f):

(f) Exceptions.—Nothing in this section prohibits the Administrator from promulgating rules generally applicable to unmanned aircraft, including those unmanned aircraft eligible for the exception set forth in this section, relating to—
(1) updates to the operational parameters for unmanned aircraft in subsection (a);
(2) the registration and marking of unmanned aircraft;
(3) the standards for remotely identifying owners and operators of unmanned aircraft systems and associated unmanned aircraft; and
(4) other standards consistent with maintaining the safety and security of the national airspace system.

An attempt was made by the FAA to address this small UAS in ‘limited recreational operations’ by including the proposed rules for the operation of UAS without remote identification equipment in an FAA-recognized identification area. This provision coincides with the congressional mythology of the operation of community-based organizations for the hobby use of model aircraft. While such organizations certainly exist, they support only a very small percentage of small recreational UAS users.

While the FAA has partially addressed this issue by exempting micro UAS (UAS weighing less than 0.55-lbs), that does not address the widespread existing use of recreational quadcopters and other small UAS (larger than 0.55-lbs) that will not be modifiable to meet the communications requirements of this rule. The FAA can say that they will not be allowed to operate in backyards, parks and city streets, but without an effective enforcement effort this rule will be effectively ignored.

There is an old leadership rule that I learned in the Army: Never give an order that you know will be disobeyed. Such an order undermines the authority of the issuer. The FAA, by not specifically addressing this issue, will undermine their authority to regulate small recreational UAS. And this class of aircraft is almost certainly the largest number of UAS in operation.

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