Home > Insights > Publications > FAA ends 2020 with announcement of two major drone rules

FAA ends 2020 with announcement of two major drone rules

Sean McGowan Tyler Black January 14, 2021

On December 28, 2020, the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) announced two final rules for Unmanned Aircraft (“UA” or “drones”): (1) Remote Identification for Unmanned Aircraft (“Remote ID”) and (2) Operation of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Over People. These rules come at a time when drones represent the fastest-growing segment in the transportation sector, with over 1.7 million drone registrations and 203,000 FAA-certificated remote pilots.

Remote ID final rule

The Remote ID rule establishes a new Part 89 to Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Under the final rule, which will become effective 60 days after the publication date in the Federal Register (expected in January 2021), all UA required to register must be able to remotely identify themselves while in flight. Operational rules take effect 30 months after the effective date of the final rule (expected to be September 2023).

Operators will have three options (outlined below) to satisfy this requirement. Note, however, that for UA weighing 0.55 lbs or less, Remote ID is only required if the UA is operated under rules that require registration, such as part 107.

1. Standard Remote ID Unmanned Aircraft

  • Broadcasts remote ID messages directly from the UA via radio frequency broadcast (likely Wi-Fi or Bluetooth technology), compatible with existing personal wireless services.

  • Standard Remote ID message includes: UA ID (serial number of UA or session ID); latitude/longitude, altitude, and velocity of UA; latitude/longitude and altitude of Control Station; emergency status; and time mark.

  • Remote ID message will be available to most personal wireless devices within range of the broadcast; however, only the FAA (and authorized law enforcement) will have the ability to correlate the serial number or session ID with the registration database.

  • Range of the Remote ID broadcast may vary, as each UA must be designed to maximize the range at which the broadcast can be received.

2. UA with Remote ID Broadcast Module

  • Broadcast Module may be a separate device that is attached to an UA, or a feature built into the aircraft.

  • Enables retrofit for existing UA, and Broadcast Module serial number must be entered into the registration record for the UA.

  • Broadcast Module Remote ID message includes: serial number of the module; latitude/longitude, altitude, and velocity of UA; latitude/longitude and altitude of the takeoff location, and time mark.

  • UA remotely identifying with a Broadcast Module must be operated within visual line of sight at all times.

  • Broadcast Module to broadcast via radio frequency (likely Wi-Fi or Bluetooth technology).

  • Compatibility with personal wireless devices and range of the Remote ID Broadcast Module message similar to Standard Remote ID UA (see above).

3. FAA-Recognized Identification Areas (“FRIA”)

  • Geographic areas recognized by the FAA where UA not equipped with Remote ID are allowed to fly.

  • Organizations eligible to apply for establishment of a FRIA include: community-based organizations recognized by the FAA, primary and secondary educational institutions, trade schools, colleges and universities.

  • Must operate within visual line of sight and only within the boundaries of a FRIA.

  • The FAA will begin accepting applications for FRIAs 18 months after the effective date of the rule, and applications may be submitted at any time after that.

  • FRIA authorizations will be valid for 48 months, may be renewed, and may be terminated by the FAA for safety or security reasons.

Other key provisions in Remote ID final rule

  • Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (“ADS-B”) Out and Air Traffic Control (“ATC”) Transponder Prohibition for UAS

    • The final rule amends Parts 91 and 107 to prohibit use of ADS-B Out or ATC Transponders on UAS unless otherwise authorized by the FAA, or if flying under a flight plan and in two-way radio communication with ATC.

    • ADS-B Out & ATC transponder authorization is likely for large UAS operating in controlled airspace.

    • Part 89 prohibits the use of ADS-B Out as a means of meeting Remote ID requirements.

  • Aeronautical Research: The rule provides for operators to seek special authorization to operate UA without remote identification for the purpose of aeronautical research or to show compliance with regulations.

  • Foreign Registered Civil UA Operated in United States: The rule allows a UA registered in a foreign country to be operated in the United States only if the operator files a notice of identification with the FAA. This enables the FAA and law enforcement to correlate a remote ID broadcast with a person responsible for the operation of a foreign-registered UA.

Operation of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS”) Over People Final Rule

The Operation of Small UAS Over People Final Rule, which has also been sent to the Office of the Federal Register and will become effective 60 days after the publication date in the Federal Register (expected in January 2021), amends the existing Part 107 in Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations to allow routine operations over people and routine operations at night under certain circumstances. The final rule will eliminate the need for those operations to receive individual Part 107 waivers from the FAA. Operations are permitted based on four categories, which are based primarily on the kinetic damage potential of the aircraft.

The final rule requires that small drone operators have their remote pilot certificate and identification in their physical possession, ready for presentation, when operating over people. This rule also expands the class of authorities who may request these forms of identification from a remote pilot. The final rule replaces the requirement to complete a recurrent test every 24 calendar months with the requirement to complete updated recurrent training that includes operating at night in identified subject areas. 

Sean McGowan is the co-chair of Thompson Coburn’s UAS (Drone) Practice Group and a member of the Aviation Practice Group. Tyler Black is an associate in the UAS Practice Group.