Remote ID is coming later this year, and like it or not, no matter what type of drone pilot you are – recreational or professional – you’re likely going to be required to abide by the new rule.
What is it? A requirement for your drone to have either an internal signal broadcasting your location, plus your drone’s latitude, longitude and heading, or an attached broadcast module sending the same data. Anyone with a smartphone in the vicinity of your launch point will be able to know where you are located while you’re flying. There are exceptions – we’ll get to those in this article.
Drones were first introduced to the consumer market in 2013. As the technology gradually advanced, and an increasing number of people started adopting them as either a hobby or part of their workflow, one thing became clear: there had to be a way to safely integrate drones into the National Airspace System (NAS) together with manned aircraft such as helicopters and airplanes. According the latest data, over 870,000 drones are registered in the U.S.
Anyone with a smartphone, in the vicinity of your launch point, will know where you are located while you’re flying
Remote ID was developed by the FAA, in response to a request from Congress, to address the ever-growing number of drones being purchased year-over-year. The biggest issue with the new law is that a remote pilot’s privacy is now compromised. A serial number attached to the drone’s operator will be electronically on display for anyone to see while the aircraft is flying, making it sort of a ‘digital license plate.’
Aside from the concerns about privacy, another possibility is potential violence and theft by bad actors who can see a drone pilot’s location.
‘I’m a huge fan of Remote ID in concept. However, the implementation blows grits and I blame the Department of Homeland Security for that. They took the way the FAA had it written initially and destroyed it,’ explains Vic Moss of the Drone Service Providers Alliance (DSPA).
There are quite a few questions surrounding Remote ID. Do you qualify? Is there anything you need to do in the present moment? What will you need to do when you are required to comply?
We’ll address these common questions, cover some major misperceptions and call out some hard truths regarding Remote ID so you have a better idea what to expect.
Question: Is Remote ID really necessary? Who does it benefit?
Remote ID was designed to integrate drones from every type of remote pilot, both professional and recreational, into the National Airspace System. The group it will benefit most, however, is the commercial (professional) sector.
Implementing Remote ID will ensure transparency and responsibility since a drone’s speed, heading and altitude will be on display at all times while the drone is in the air. This will enable more complex operations, including Operations Over People and Beyond-Visual-Line-of-Sight, to be made without the pilot having to secure a waiver – an arduous process that usually takes weeks if not months.
Recreational pilots, or those who fly for fun, will suffer more as they want to enjoy their drone hobby without their privacy being compromised. If they don’t wish to operate under Remote ID, they’ll be limited to an FAA-Recognized Identification Area (FRIA). This is a designated open area where anyone can fly without Remote ID, but in it they must maintain visual line-of-sight. But there are exceptions.
|The official language on the FAA’s site is vague, but ‘all drone pilots required to register’ means those flying a drone over 250g or those operating commercially and for profit. No need for registration means no Remote ID.|
The language on the FAA’s site is vague, but if you are flying a sub-250g drone recreationally, you don’t need to register the drone, and therefore you won’t be restricted by the Remote ID rules. You can fly anywhere you’d like and you’re not limited to a FRIA. That being said, you still need to follow standard drone rules including looking out for Temporary Flight Restrictions and getting LAANC approval if you plan to operate in controlled airspace. Simply put, no registration = no Remote ID.
Simply put, no registration = no Remote ID
If you aren’t flying under recreational rules, you’ll need to register your drone – regardless of what it weighs. On the other end, any recreational pilots with models above 250g – for example an Autel EVO II, DJI Air 2S, or Mavic 3 series – will also have to operate under Remote ID.
Question: How do I meet the requirements of Remote ID?
There are 3 ways a drone pilot can meet the FAA’s requirements.
- Operating a Standard Remote ID drone: this means your drone already has Remote ID built in. Manufacturers had to start complying in September 2022. All drones created after this period have Remote ID broadcast capability.
- Using a Remote ID Broadcast Module: if your drone does not have internal Remote ID, a piece of hardware called a broadcast module can be affixed to the aircraft. Since they’re not integrated with the drone, you are limited to line-of-sight flying.
- Drone without Remote ID: If you choose to operate a drone over 250g recreationally, meaning not under Part 107 or for profit, without a broadcast unit, you’ll be limited to a FRIA. These are geographical areas run by community-based clubs and academic institutions that are also approved by the FAA. As noted above, drones under 250g are exempt from this restriction.
Question: What if you decide to fly in a FRIA? Where are they?
If you have registered your sub-250g drone, or if you have props that make it heavier than 250g upon takeoff, not to mention a heavier drone model, and you don’t want to fly under Remote ID, you’ll be able to operate in a FRIA. So where are these, and how can you find them? The answer is that while the FAA has designated the term, it hasn’t laid out exactly where these areas will be located or how large they’ll be just yet.
Question: How close (or far away) will a Remote ID signal be broadcast?
The Remote ID signal will be broadcast from your drone – not from its remote or your mobile phone. A huge concern for people is how far away they can be spotted by law enforcement or the public. Right now, the answer is it depends on either the drone manufacturer or the broadcast module.
|Will your drone be compliant with Remote ID when it’s time? My Mavic 3 will be, per the notification that popped up briefly in the upper-left-hand corner.|
‘The distance Remote ID is going to be broadcast is going to be limited. It’ll either be via Bluetooth or Wifi. With Bluetooth, you can go a couple thousand meters but under perfect conditions. The higher your drone is, the longer and further it’s going to be broadcasting because of line of sight,’ explains Moss.
How do I know if my drone has Remote ID built in?
Some drones already have Remote ID built in. This means that only a software or firmware update is needed instead of extra hardware. They include:
How will you know if your drone already has internal Remote ID built in? You may have already seen an error message pop up on your remote control’s screen. It usually lingers for a few seconds before disappearing. Right now you don’t need to do anything about it, and you really can’t. Starting September 2022, manufacturers were required to integrate Remote ID into their models going forward.
Misconception: broadcast modules are going to be awkwardly large and expensive.
But what about the drones that don’t have Remote ID capabilities built in? If you’re flying an older drone model, an FPV rig or something you built yourself, you may be looking at the clunky units currently on the market, going for around $300 each, and wondering if it’s going to be an expensive ‘necessity’ whose size will possibly compromise the quality of your aircraft’s performance.
|If you search for a Remote ID-compliant drone broadcast module right now, this will be your typical result. Vic Moss promises there will be smaller, lighter and cheaper options available as the date for compliance approaches.|
‘I know for a fact that modules are being developed that are going to be cheaper and lighter,’ Moss says. ‘Some will be for FPV, where they can build the module in. Others will be non-recreational, FAA doesn’t like the word “commercial.” They’ll be much cheaper and lighter.’
The FAA will not have any say in the size or pricing of broadcast modules. It is up to each manufacturer.
Misconception: I’m going to get harassed or someone will shoot down my drone.
This is a huge concern, especially since these types of incidents make the news on a regular basis. The upside is there are already laws in place to deal with folks who harass drone operators and damage their property. Jamming a drone’s signal is a direct violation of the Communications Act of 1934, while shooting one down is a federal crime per Title 18 US Code 32 of the 1984 Aircraft Sabotage Act.
Anyone in violation of these laws will end up getting fined and/or arrested.
Misconception: Drone pilots are being unfairly surveilled.
Remote ID was developed in part to help address privacy concerns from the other side, the general public, regarding anonymous cameras in the sky. Now that drone operators are worried about their own privacy, there are a few things to keep in mind. ‘The average person is likely not going to have the [Remote ID] app on their phone,’ Vic Moss explains, with that app being the only way to access this information.
‘No one is going to know your name,’ he adds, ‘even the responding police officers, unless they see you and say “give me your ID.” The police will otherwise have to reach out to the FAA and give them your serial number to get your identity. They’re going to have to show cause.’
|Free apps such as BoatNerd AIS and Plane Finder (above) allow anyone to track the movement of manned aircraft and vessels.|
What aerial photographer John Peltier adeptly points out on his blog is that all manned aircraft have ADS-B tracking in place. Maritime vessels, from small sailboats to large cargo ships, have broadcasters called AIS. Apps like Plane Finder and BoatNerd Ais are quite popular amongst enthusiasts looking to track their movements.
‘I’m afraid that having that information [available] to the public, as is, with the pilot location readily available, is going to cripple compliance.’
Still, it is a bit different with drones. Given that they’re unmanned aircraft and the operator is standing on the ground in an area without security detail, it invites potential problems. ‘What I would love to see is the signal broken into two sections,’ Moss said. ‘One would be the data that people would need to know – who’s flying, the serial number of the Remote ID (not the serial number of the drone) and pilot or takeoff location. The last part should not be displayed unless you have a code, if you have a subscription for first responders, police – that kind of thing.
‘They need that kind of information because they need to find somebody if they’re doing something wrong or illegal. I’m afraid that having that information [available] to the public, as is, with the pilot location readily available, is going to cripple compliance. People are afraid, and we hear stories all the time of people getting shot at, beat up or verbally harassed.’
Question: when does compliance begin?
Any remote pilot operating under Part 107, or flying an aircraft over 250g outside a FRIA, will need to be compliant with Remote ID starting September 16, 2023 at 12:01 am.
Truth: there are some serious unresolved issues with Remote ID.
Since the FAA only regulates outdoor airspace, indoor drone flight falls outside its jurisdiction. A lot of commercial drone activity, including filming and inspections, happens indoors. FPV racing is also a popular hobbyist event that often takes place inside auditoriums. Complying with Remote ID is contingent on a drone connecting with a GPS signal. Since this is difficult to achieve in an enclosed space, there is an issue. The FAA has not addressed this yet.
|Will Remote ID broadcast modules eventually be small and light like the strobes (pictured) required for flight at night?|
And, as mentioned above already, the main underlying issue remains. ‘I’m concerned about my safety if the Remote ID signal will be trackable by anyone with a cell phone, and not just the FAA and law enforcement,’ said Loretta Alkalay, who served as the FAA’s Regional Counsel for 30 years. ‘I also think the law will be difficult to enforce with the millions of drones already in existence without Remote ID and the large number of people who undoubtedly will have no idea that a Remote ID rule even exists.’
Nevertheless, for the people in the know, who want to legally operate and perform more complex operations including Operations Over People and Beyond-Visual-Line-of-Sight, Remote ID is a step in the right direction. As Kenji Sugahara, also part of the DSPA, mentioned in a previous DPReview article, ‘If the DOJ (Department of Justice) and FAA won’t take action against those who threaten pilots, it’s up to the industry to ensure that it’s harder to get the information that could put pilots in danger.’
It’ll be interesting to see what develops after Remote ID goes into effect on September 16th.