From Hot Button Issue to Warm Reception: What the FAA Changed in the Remote ID Rule and How the Drone Industry Has Reacted

BY Zacc Dukowitz
7 January 2021

When the FAA first opened a draft of its Remote ID rule to public comment in late 2019 it drew a barrage of criticism from throughout the drone industry.

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Companies issued statements detailing their worries, lobbyists issued press releases, and community forums like ours were buzzing with posts written by concerned pilots. The AMA (Academy of Model Aeronautics) even formed a coalition with over 25 members whose sole purpose was to fight the Remote ID rule.

Many worried that the rule would change the drone industry for the worse by forcing new costs and new, untested technology onto commercial and hobbyist drone pilots alike (there were other concerns as well, but these were two of the big ones).

Fast forward one year, and the FAA has now released a final version of the Remote ID rule.

Here’s an overview of what the rule requires:

Starting in 2023, all drones that weigh over 0.55 pounds (250 grams) must broadcast the operator’s location and a unique identification number, like a kind of digital license plate.

[Read the FAA’s full 470 page Remote ID rule here and the 3 page Executive Summary here.]

So how are people responding to the new rule? And what’s different between the draft version and the one that just came out?

Keep reading to find out.

How the Drone Industry Is Reacting to the FAA’s Remote ID Rule

So far, the response to the new rule has been generally positive.

In fact, what’s telling about the overall reaction is how quiet it’s been.

While the draft rule prompted a huge public outcry, the final rule has resulted in—well, not that much chatter at all. And that benign silence seems to indicate that most people are basically fine with it.

That being said, several key stakeholders in the drone industry have issued public statements making their position clear. And all of these statements have expressed support for the rule, with only one exception.

Notably, the AMA has wholeheartedly endorsed the new rule, saying that the final version “addresses many of the concerns expressed by tens of thousands of hobbyists during the rulemaking process.”

Other companies and organizations that have come out in support of the new rule include AUVSI, AirMap, DJI, and drone UTM company OneSky.

Both the AMA and DJI were loud and frequent critics of the draft rule (read DJI’s criticism here and the AMA’s criticism here), which makes their public endorsements of the final version that much more significant.

Individual drone pilots also seem to be receptive to the new rule. According to a recent article by Sally French, her readers have generally welcomed it, although they still have some questions about certain aspects of implementation.

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Based on our research, the only company to issue a statement criticizing the new rule so far has been Wing, Alphabet’s drone delivery company.

Wing was also a vocal critic of the draft Remote ID rule, but in that instance it was joined by many others throughout the industry.

The reason for Wing’s objection to the final version of the rule has to do with privacy.

Although the FAA has gotten rid of a requirement that all drones maintain an internet connection in order to transmit location data, it does require that this data be transmitted via radio frequency broadcast.

Here is what Wing has said regarding this aspect of the new rule:

This approach creates barriers to compliance and will have unintended negative privacy impacts for businesses and consumers . . . 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.

– Wing

What’s Different between the Remote ID Draft Rule and the Final Version

When the FAA released its draft Remote ID rule in late 2019 as an NPRM (Notice for Public Rulemaking) it received over 50,000 comments, many of them negative.

We also had concerns about it. At the time, we identified four major aspects of the draft rule that we felt needed to be reexamined: cost, compliance, privacy, and logistical complications.

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The good news is that, by and large, the FAA has listened to people’s concerns and made adjustments in the final version of the rule to address the input it received.

One of the biggest concerns people had about the draft rule was that it required people to maintain a network connection while flying—a requirement that would make compliance almost impossible for those operating in rural or remote areas.

Further, this network connection would have been supported by a subscription service, which led to further concerns about the ongoing cost for the service, as well as concerns over who would get to offer such a service and how the infrastructure would be built to support it.

The final version of the rule eliminates the network requirement, replacing it with a less burdensome option: the use of Remote ID broadcast modules.

However, the elimination of the network requirement, while significant, is not the only thing the FAA changed from the draft to the final version of the rule.

This side-by-side comparison created by the AMA provides a good overview of everything that has changed:

Proposed (Draft) Rule Final Rule
Internet connectivity required. Broadcast only, no internet needed.
Paid monthly subscription to UAS service supplier. Requirement removed along with removal of internet requirement.
FRIAs could only be requested in first year. FRIAs can be requested or changed indefinitely.
Per-aircraft registration. Individual registration, operator registers only once.
Special events not addressed. Pathway for special events to deviate from Remote ID rules.
Included a 400-foot range limit. 400-foot limit removed.
High cost associated with compliance. Cost decreased by 60%.
Amateur-built aircraft included a 50% build/fabrication requirement. Build percentage requirement removed and “home-build” was added with no requirement to meet manufacturer certification standards for recreational or educational use.

What do you think of the new Remote ID rule? Share your thoughts in this post on the UAV Coach community forum.

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