The FAA has kept its word. As promised, the FAA has released the final versions of its rules for Remote Identification of Unmanned Aircraft, for Flight of UAS Over People, and for UAS Night Operations. These rulemakings represent an important step towards routine flight beyond visual line of sight and full integration of UAS into the National Airspace System.
The Remote ID Rule
The Remote ID proposal was the most controversial of the new rules, and garnered the most public comments. The 470-page final rule establishes a new Part 89 in the Federal Aviation Regulations, and will become effective 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register.
Under the final rule, all unmanned aircraft weighing over .55 pounds must be registered. In addition, unmanned aircraft weighing under .55 pounds will also have to be registered if they are operated under Part 107. Any aircraft that falls under the registration requirement must also have a remote identification capability. Unmanned aircraft operators have 30 months from the date the rule is published in the Federal Register to meet this requirement. Remote Identification falls into three different categories, Standard Remote ID, Unmanned Aircraft with a Remote ID Broadcast Module, and Unmanned Aircraft Operation in an FAA-Recognized Identification Areas (FRIA).
In order to meet the requirements for a Standard Remote ID Unmanned Aircraft, the UA must broadcast remote ID messages directly from the UA via radio frequency broadcast such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. The Standard Remote ID message must include either the unmanned aircraft’s serial number or session ID, the aircraft’s latitude/longitude, altitude, and velocity, as well as the latitude/longitude and altitude of the control station. The message must also indicate if the aircraft is in an emergency status, and contain a time stamp.
The second method of compliance is for Unmanned Aircraft with a Remote ID Broadcast Module. The Broadcast Module may be a separate device that is attached to an unmanned aircraft, or a feature built into the aircraft. This will permit existing UA to be retrofitted to ensure compliance. The Broadcast Module Remote ID message must include the serial number of the broadcast module, unmanned aircraft’s latitude/longitude, altitude, and velocity, the latitude/longitude and altitude of the take-off location, and a time stamp for the message.
The final method of compliance, which will be primarily used by hobbyists, is to operate the unmanned aircraft in an FAA-Recognized Identification Areas (FRIA). Community-based organizations and educational institutions can petition the FAA to create a FRIA. All flight in the FRIA must be conducted within visual line of sight. The FAA will begin accepting FRIA applications 18 months after the rule is published In the Federal Register. FRIA designations will be valid for 48 months, and can be terminated by the FAA at any time for safety or security reasons.
The FAA did try to meet some of the privacy concerns voiced in the comments to the draft rule. While the remote ID message will be receivable by most personal wireless devices within range of the broadcast, the ability to correlate an aircraft serial number or session ID with the registration database will be limited to the FAA. The FAA will make the information available to authorized law enforcement and national security personnel upon request.
The biggest change between the prosed rule and the final rule is the elimination of the requirement that the aircraft have an open internet/network connection that would send data to a third-party service provider. The FAA stated that the public’s comments revealed several serious concerns on technical issues and privacy that caused it to abandon that part of the proposal.
The rule also contains a number of regulations regarding design standards for remote ID system manufacturers and the process for FAA acceptance of a manufacturer’s means of compliance with the rules. The rule provides that virtually all UAS produced more than 18 months after the effective date of the rule must meet the remote ID requirements. Finally, as expected, the rule prohibits the use of ADS-B or air traffic control transponders by unmanned aircraft.
Flight Over People
The FAA also published rules to permit small UAS to be routinely flown over people. The rule places unmanned aircraft into four categories which have different characteristics and limitations.
In order to qualify for Category 1, the aircraft must weigh less than 0.55 pounds, including everything on board or otherwise attached, and contain no exposed rotating parts that would lacerate human skin. Aircraft in this category do not need to meet an FAA-accepted Means of Compliance or have a Declaration of Compliance.
In order to qualify for Category 2, the aircraft must not cause injury to a human being that is equivalent to or greater than the severity of injury caused by a transfer of 11 foot-pounds of kinetic energy upon impact from a rigid object, does not contain any exposed rotating parts that could lacerate human skin upon impact with a human being, and does not contain any safety defects. The aircraft’s design must meet an FAA-accepted means of compliance and have an FAA-accepted declaration of compliance.
In order to qualify for Category 3, the aircraft must not cause injury to a human being that is equivalent to or greater than the severity of injury caused by a transfer of 25 foot-pounds of kinetic energy upon impact from a rigid object, does not contain any exposed rotating parts that could lacerate human skin upon impact with a human being, and does not contain any safety defects. The aircraft’s design must meet an FAA-accepted means of compliance and have an FAA-accepted declaration of compliance.
In order to qualify for Category 4, the aircraft must have an airworthiness certificate issued under Part 21 of the FARs and must be operated in accordance with the operating limitations specified in the approved Flight Manual. The operating limitations must not prohibit operations over human beings. In addition, the operator must have a maintenance and inspection program that meets the requirements of the rule.
In addition, Category 1, Category 2 and Category 4 aircraft cannot be operated over assemblies of people unless they meet the requirements for standard remote identification or remote identification broadcast modules established in the Remote ID Final Rule. Category 3 aircraft cannot be operated over large assemblies of people and can only be flown over people in an area where access if restricted to persons involved in the operation.
The final night operations rules were the least controversial of all of the proposals and were published without change. In order to operate at night, the pilot must complete FAA testing regarding night operations and the aircraft must be equipped with anti-collision lights that can be seen for 3 statute miles and have a flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision.