DOT delays proposed drone ID rules a fourth time

drone in flight

The U.S. Department of Transportation has again postponed publishing the much anticipated proposed rulemaking on remote identification of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) but hopes to do so before the end of the month.

Friday, Dec. 20, was the most recently scheduled date of publication. Late that day, a U.S. Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson said the agency had just received final executive branch clearance on the notice of proposed rulemaking. “The FAA and [DOT] are currently taking the final procedural steps to officially publish the NPRM in the Federal Register and it is our intent to publicly display the rule prior to the end of December,” the spokesperson told FreightWaves.

The rulemaking is expected to set out standards and policies for UAS operating in the U.S. Implementing remote ID systems is seen as a critical next step in the integration of drones into the National Airspace System, the development of the commercial drone industry and their use in a variety of applications, including cargo operations.

Remote ID refers to the ability of a UAS, or drone, in flight to provide identification and tracking information that other parties can receive. Before the latest delay, the remote ID NPRM originally was scheduled to be published in May but was delayed to July, then September and finally Dec. 20.

In September, Brian Wynne, president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, said, “The need for remote identification cannot be overstated, as the advancement of the UAS industry depends on identifying and tracking UAS flying in the airspace.”

Remote ID will enable the FAA, air traffic control, law enforcement and other agencies to identify and distinguish authorized drone activities from those that may pose a safety or security threat. Currently, drones can be operated anonymously and are difficult to track. With remote ID, air traffic controllers or others monitoring air traffic would be able to contact the drone, its control station or both, when necessary.

Last December, the appearance of drones at London Gatwick Airport closed the runway at the U.K.’s second busiest airport for 33 hours, canceling or delaying about 1,000 flights.

In a June speech, FAA Deputy Administrator Daniel K. Elwell, who at the time was acting administrator, said, “Remote identification is the gateway to beyond visual line-of-sight operations and operations over people. It’s the backbone for UAS Traffic Management. Remote ID is the enabler for package delivery, for operations in congested areas, for the continued safe operation of all aircraft in shared airspace.”

In November, China-based DJI, the dominant commercial drone manufacturer, demonstrated what it described as a “direct drone-to-phone, Wi-Fi based solution” to remotely identify airborne drones. The company said that through an app, anyone within radio range of a drone can receive that signal and learn the location, altitude, speed and direction of the drone, as well as an identification number for the drone and the location of the pilot.

“Remote ID functions as an electronic license plate for drones, allowing anyone who is curious about a drone in the sky to learn more about what it’s doing,” Brendan Schulman, DJI vice president of policy and legal affairs, said in a news release.