The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced final rules for Unmanned Aircraft (UA), commonly known as drones. The new rules – years upon years late – finally will require Remote Identification (Remote ID) of drones and allow operators of small drones to fly over people and at night under some conditions. Private and commercial pilots flying aircraft in the same airspace as drones have been doing this for decades – well into the last century – and are also required to possess a license that require rigorous training in airspace, among other areas such as weather, aerodynamics, and operator medical factors.
These rules come at a time when drones are the fastest-growing segment in the entire transportation sector – with currently more than 1.7 million drone registrations and 203,000 FAA “certificated” (requirements not even close to what private pilots must know on the FAA written test) remote pilots.
Almost a year ago, the FAA posted a rule in the Federal Register requiring small drone owners to display the FAA-issued registration number on an outside surface of the aircraft. (Duh, airplane owners have also been doing this since the last century – editor.) Owners and operators may no longer place or write registration numbers in an interior compartment. The rule is effective on 25 February 2019. The markings must be in place for any flight after that date.
“These final rules carefully address safety, security and privacy concerns while advancing opportunities for innovation and utilization of drone technology,” claimed U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao. (DOT Secretary Chao Announces FAA Certification of Commercial Package Delivery, aka Pizza Pie in the Sky)
Remote ID provides identification of drones in flight as well as the location of their control stations. This in theory can offer some information to our national security agencies, law enforcement and other government officials with safeguarding public safety. Airspace awareness reduces the risk of drone interference with other aircraft and people and property on the ground, the FAA claims.
Equipping drones with Remote ID technology builds on tiny steps taken by the FAA and the drone industry to integrate operations safely into the national airspace system. (Think of the Boing 737 Max fatalities – the direct result of the FAA allowing the industry it is allegedly regulating to write the rules – aka Fox Guarding the Chicken Coop.)
Part 107 of the federal aviation regulations currently prohibits covered drone operations over people and at night unless the operator obtains a waiver from the FAA. The new FAA regulations jointly provide increased flexibility to conduct certain small UAS without obtaining waiver.
The Remote ID rule applies to all operators of drones that require FAA registration. There are three ways to comply with the operational requirements:
- Operate a standard Remote ID drone that broadcasts identification and location information of the drone and control station;
- 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
- Operate a drone without Remote ID but at specific FAA-recognized identification areas.
The final rule requires that small drone operators have their remote pilot certificate and identification in their physical possession when operating, ready to present to authorities if needed. (Duh, pilots have met this requirement for decades upon decades.) This mini-rule also expands the class of authorities who may request these forms 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.
Both rules will become effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. The Remote ID rule includes two compliance dates. Drone manufacturers will have 18 months to begin producing drones with Remote ID, with operators having an additional year to start using drones with Remote ID.
Why start hurrying now. After all leisurely regulation is apparently in the FAA operator’s handbook. Maybe the FAA should read the Operator’s Handbook that are in manned-aircraft now?
In related action today (29 December), the FAA announced Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) airspace restrictions over additional national security sensitive locations, effective December 30. With its federal partners, the FAA will restrict UAS operations in the airspace over two locations. The first is Rock Island Arsenal located between Davenport, Iowa and Rocks Island, Illinois. The second facility is Biometric Technology Center in Clarksburg, West Virginia. Restrictions on these Department of Defense facilities are to address concerns about drone activity over security sensitive facilities.
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