FAA Issues Final Rules on Drone Use
Last week the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued final rules regarding the use of unmanned aircrafts, a.k.a. drones. The rules address when and how drone operators are allowed to fly over people and at night, and the rules require the broadcast of remote identification information from the drones themselves.
The new regulations apply to all drones that require FAA registration—essentially all unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) except recreation-only drones weighing less than 0.55 pounds.
Last week, the FAA released two new drone rules for #RemoteID and Ops over People. “They get us closer to the day when we will more routinely see drone operations such as the delivery of packages.” – FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. Learn more at https://t.co/NSZQW5iv8u. pic.twitter.com/5FNIVnLGNT— The FAA ✈️ (@FAANews) January 4, 2021
Previously, drones were prohibited from flying over people and at night without an express waiver obtained from the FAA. The new regulation classifies different categories of UAS according to size and potential for damage. All categories that fly over people must also follow the broadcast identification guidelines. All the light categories may not have “any exposed rotating parts that could lacerate human skin.”
Category 1: Must weigh less than 0.55 pounds, may operate over open air assemblies of people, does not require FAA documentation.
Category 2: Must transfer 11 foot-pounds or less of kinetic energy upon impact, may operate over open air assemblies of people, requires FAA documentation.
Category 3: Must transfer 25 foot-pounds or less of kinetic energy upon impact, may not operate over open air assemblies of people, requires FAA documentation.
Category 4: All heavier vehicles or vehicles with more dangerous moving parts are subject to much more stringent FAA regulations including airworthiness certificates, demonstrable maintenance programs, and inspection availability; subject to those regulations are able to fly over open air assemblies.
As for night flight, the regulation requires pilot training and anti-collision lights that can be seen for three miles.
The information required to be broadcast includes serial number or session identification of the drone; location, altitude, and speed; time; and location of the controller. The message should be sent via radio frequencies and accessible to personal wireless devices. Access to FAA registration data corresponding to drone serial numbers will be restricted to authorized law enforcement and national security personnel. Still, the broadcast requirement is not without controversy.
Notably, Alphabet Inc.’s subsidiary Wing is working on drone delivery technology, and they took issue with the final rule’s broadcast requirement.
“Unfortunately, the final rule, unlike existing international standards, does not allow the use of equally effective network remote ID, and requires all UAS, no matter the use case, to use ‘broadcast’ RID,” Wing said in a 28 December 2020 statement. “This approach creates barriers to compliance and will have unintended negative privacy impacts for businesses and consumers. Unlike traditional aircraft flying between known airports, commercial drones fly closer to communities and between businesses and homes. While an observer tracking an airplane can’t infer much about the individuals or cargo onboard, an observer tracking a drone can infer sensitive information about specific users, including where they visit, spend time, and live and where customers receive packages from and when. American communities would not accept this type of surveillance of their deliveries or taxi trips on the road. They should not accept it in the sky.”
The rules will be officially published this month and effective 60 days after publication. The rules give drone manufacturers 18 months to accommodate the requirement to broadcast information from each drone.