Federal Aviation Administration Announces Major Drone Rule Changes

If new rules from the FAA regarding unmanned aircraft operations in the US are any indication, drones are becoming less of a niche hobby and more integrated into everyday life. Of course, the devil is in the details, and what the Federal Aviation Administration appears to give with one hand, it takes away with the other.

The rule changes, announced on December 28, are billed as “advanc[ing] safety and innovation” of the drone industry in the United States. The exciting part, and the aspect that garnered the most attention with headline writers, is the relaxation of rules against night operation and operating above people and moving vehicles. Since 2016, it has been against FAA regulations to operate drones less than 55 pounds (25 kg) at night or over people without a waiver. This rule can be seen as stifling innovations in drone delivery, since any useful delivery service will likely need to overfly populated areas and roadways and probably do so at night. The new rules allow these operations without a waiver for four categories of drones, classified by how much damage they would do if they were to lose control and hit someone. The rules also define the inspection and certification regimes for both aircraft and pilot, as well as stipulating that operators have to have their certificate and ID on their person while flying.

While this seems like great news, the flip side of the coin is perhaps less shiny. The rule changes also impose the requirement for “Remote ID” (PDF link), which is said to be “a major step toward full integration of drones into the national airspace system.” Certain drones will be required to carry a system that transmits identification messages directly from the aircraft, including such data as serial number, location and speed of the drone, as well as the location of the operator. The rules speculate that this would likely be done over WiFi or Bluetooth, and would need to be receivable with personal wireless devices. The exact technical implementation of these rules is left as an exercise to manufacturers, who have 30 months from the time the rules go into effect in January to design systems, submit them for certification, and get them built into their aircraft. Drone operators have an additional year to actually start using the Remote ID drones.

For the drone community, these rule changes seem like a mixed bag. To be fair, it’s not exactly unexpected that drones would be radio tagged like this, and the lead time allowed by the FAA for compliance on Remote ID seems generous. The ability to operate in riskier environments will no doubt be welcomed by commercial drone operators. So who knows — maybe the rules will do what they say they will, and this will stimulate a little innovation in the industry. If so, it could make this whole thing a net positive.

60 thoughts on “Federal Aviation Administration Announces Major Drone Rule Changes

    1. They did it with phones. They’re doing it with cars. They will do it with drones.

      Who’s ready to ask for a permit and pay a “tax stamp” (fine) to use their GPS-enabled serialized toaster in 2050?

  1. Still not clear on what this means for existing drones like a DJI Mavic and such. Can the existing control link be used for the remote ID? Will DJI come out with a module that can be used (doubtful, they already don’t provide firmware updates for the Mavic). Or are these older drones just going to be grounded?

    1. Didn’t all DJI products and services just get blacklisted for import by the USA since they directly supplied custom solutions and services for multiple human rights-abusing programs that are happening in china?

      Existing products seem to be available in the states for now but I don’t know how things will be for them as they start releasing new products, or if I would be willing to use them now that I understand their intense use in the mainland as a core part of state surveillance in rural areas like Xinjiang. :\

      1. The gov action isn’t about imports. It’s about prohibiting US companies (without a special license/waiver) to sell certain parts/technologies to DJI, so it is more like a US technology embargo against DJI (and all other companies on that blacklist). This kind of economic sanctions could be extremely far-reaching in the future. E.g. if the deal goes thru, US based NVIDIA will soon own ARM, which owns the intellectual property to almost all CPUs used in mobile devices like smart phones (and drones), But it could also jump-start the Chinese hi-tech industry to become (yet) more self-reliant and innovative.

    2. I imagine that’s why the FAA is giving them so much time, nobody really knows the answer to a lot of these questions.

      Let’s also not forget that 30 months puts us into the middle of the next admin’s term. They might change the rules entirely, and all this goes out the window.

    1. I don’t think that’s the case at all. For the most part, it’s paranoia that drones (and other fun toys) will be weaponized. The other part is that they will be misused (and we’ve already seen this), and they want/need a way to make those misusers accountable. What’s ridiculous about this is people who serious about misusing won’t be stopped by these rules. They’ll either build their own with out remote ID, or they simply won’t care because by the time the data can be used, they’ll be long gone.

      1. “What’s ridiculous about this is people who serious about misusing won’t be stopped by these rules.”

        Exactly like firearm laws, but in the US at least, there is a strong lobby to prevent useless regulation that affects only the law abiding, people who wouldn’t misuse firearms anyway.

        With RC aircraft, too many even in the hobby accepted the statistically provable to be ridiculous (as I did and made known the best I could while others proved that the 250g figure, now blindly copied by other nations, was a far too low, pulled out their ass via laughable wild ass guess calculation) US 2015 Christmas drone apocalypse hysteria which never materialized where commercial airliners would be falling out of the sky thanks to accidental collisions with “drones,” that hysteria gladly propagated by the ignorant, sensationalist and therefore, as usual, easily manipulated media. A few of us warned about this in RC forums, but were mostly ignored.

        As we predicted, RC pilot registration in the US was their foot in the door and you can see where we are now.

        1. No one ignored it but it was comming either way nothing anyone could do about all we have to do is put a small transmiter on our drone whats the big deal it could have been way worse

      2. > What’s ridiculous about this is people who serious about misusing won’t be stopped by these rules.

        Firearms enthusiasts have been saying this about gun control laws for years. Welcome to the party, drone flyers.

        1. Except most R/C people don’t consider ourselves flying ‘drones’. We fly model aircraft. We fly these aircraft within line of sight on a club ‘field’, not over people. Anyway, see where the shoe falls. Don’t like it as we have been flying safely since the 30s…. I fear, we will eventually loose are hobby, as it will just get ‘regulated’ to death…. Waiting to see how the ‘remote id’ now affects us per AMA.

    2. I just made a comment like two days back on a webcam spectrometer drone built video touching bases somewhat noting this topic. Thinking they don’t want to be exposed for what the “they ain’t puritans” faking it till they make it invasive nuisances are really up to and inconsiderate regarding.

  2. Hobbyists are going to get stomped by these rules. Just like anything, once big business wants to use the airspace good luck sharing it with them. Want to fly a homebuilt drone out in your backyard? Sure just apply for a license, pay the yearly fee, download a privacy invading app, install an expensive and heavy transponder on your drone. Use the app to reserve the airspace. And viola, you can putter around for a couple of minutes as you normally would.

    I’m a drone racer, and I own at least 7 custom built drones so this issue is close to my heart.

    1. Skimming the published report the FAA send out yesterday, it appears there may be an exemption for home-built “drones” so long as it is for recreational use. Wish the article would have covered that, rather than another article about the report.

      1. This is HAD, everything is covered with pessimism, if not in the article then certainly in the comments!

        In a twisted way this is a good thing, you get to see both sides of the story at once. If it was all sunshine, puppies and unicorns omg! I don’t think that I could keep reading it for the last decade and a half.

        And as hackers, recognizing a problem is the first step in planning a solution or upgrade!

  3. My son and I have really bonded over flying RC planes in parks. They are all foam board built electric power. It was such a dream for me as a kid to fly RC planes, but it was just too out of reach for me financially. It seemed like the hobby was recently becoming reasonably affordable for us…and now this.

      1. unlike manned aircraft, if they have an “accident” like a mid-air collision with the cheapest race quad one can build…it’s $120-150 vs multiple thousands of $$$, let’s see whose budget can keep up…

  4. Horsemuffins!

    Here in the SF Bay area, they have made sure there is nowhere to fly a drone as n amateur. Now, that big-business wants in, it’s all fine? Bullshit!

    Amateurs deserve the same drone privileges as companies.

  5. Disappointed, but it’s inevitable as more and more money is involved in the industry. This is gonna push legal hobby RC flying to <250g where it can, or kill it off where it can't. I personally started to lose motivation in the hobby once the initial regulations started to come in and the writing was on the wall for future, more restrictive regulations.

    1. Wow, you’re old. Ham license came in in 1912 and you needed one of those until late 1960s to operate Radio Controlled models. By then I think FAA had put weight limits on model aircraft before they needed a type certificate. What were you doing collaborating with both Marconi and the Wright brothers to have your spark gap twitched stick and string contraption nudged about the sky at your command??

  6. Who gives a crap what the FAA says? Only the sheeple do. Slap on your favorite headgear and fly your drone from inside the comfort of your living room. They will never be able to track you, so screw them.

  7. This whole mess came not from DJI drones, nor cheap, cheap, cheap drones, nor homebuilt quadcopters, but from corporations like Amazon and other delivery companies who don’t even know if it will ever be practical for them to use unpiloted flying craft. Eventually they will discover that this was just a stupid idea, and all that will be left is a ton of regulations enforcing nothing. The unintended consequence will be that there will be a shortage of aerospace engineers because there won’t be any kids getting bit by the hobby, pursuing their dreams.

  8. Always amusing how hobbyists argue that the gov is overreacting, while at the same time treating those gov restrictions as if someone cut off the hobbyists genitals. Personally, there are lots of laws that annoy me, but I get over it.
    But to some extent, I agree: we should all have some freedom to have some fun. Some of us want the right to have fun flying their drones over their neighbors private properties, and I want to have the right to have fun shooting them down with my pellet gun.

  9. I found it odd that they would suggest Bluetooth or WiFi as the RF technology to use for this. Besides being on an ISM band, with lots of potential interference, these standards aren’t really designed for long range broadcast communucations.

    No one wants to spend their limited power budget yelling over everyone else’s 2.4GHz devices to be heard at useful distances with those protocols. It seems like their goal was to limit the need for the public and law enforcement to buy new gear to receive this without recognizing other practical aspects of actually implementing it.

    I know many transmitters/control links use 2.4GHz but they use protocols that limit the effects of common interference.

    1. I know it’s probably not cheap, but there’s already a standard for aircraft broadcasting ident, position, speed, etc. It’s called ADS-B, and it works rather well. Curious that’s not an option, but then again I don’t know what’s physically involved in an ADS-B transponder. It might be too heavy, too power hungry, etc.

      1. I suspect that the FAA doesn’t want unmanned aircraft interfering with the manned ones. Perhaps that is why they specified using a different chunk of the spectrum for IDing.

        Personally, I give the enforcement of this law about 15 minutes before some of us from this community manage to completely spoof the IDing protocol, whatever it turns out to be. It might be fun to see drones being flown by “Buttdog”, or “Nyancat”, or some other meaningless name, just sayin’…

        1. The issue of spoofing is a good point as well. Basically zero they could do about it on ISM bands and even less if it’s based on Bluetooth or Wifi. Another good reason to move it to it’s own band, where they could have a legal basis for enforcing what people can do with it.

          UDS-B and FLARM seem like more suitable options. Not a fan of the licensing model for FLARM though (and don’t know how UDS-B would be licensed). UDS-B is billed as a unmanned version of ADS-B and would use an adjacent band. Presumably, this would make it easier for existing ADS-B hardware to be updated/re-tuned to receive it.

          https://uavionix.com/uavionix-test-uds-b-solution/

          One down-side to dedicated spectrum is that it would probably be more complicated (impractical) to make home-built remote ID transmitters since they would require some sort of certification/approval to transmit there.

        2. The spoofing potential is interesting and I’m not sure it would even be illegal. The new rule specifically requires that the RID transmission is on an unlicensed frequency band. Who is to say what type of data I can or can’t transmit over WIFI (I mean the FCC is, but ….)

      2. ADS-B is being avoided by the FAA as a solution as the data rate is so low that too many transmitters in one area would mean not enough time for all of them to talk. The FAA pace of work on a replacement is set back because they want a planet wide solution. However, the FAA does not mandate ADS-B Out on all manned aircraft and prohibits it from powered parachutes, one of the most likely to encounter drones. The FAA also does not mandate ADS-B In on most aircraft, particularly small ones, as it is intended for Air Traffic Control uses and not for collision avoidance. TCAS is intended for that, but it’s required on an even smaller range of planes.

        This is a problem the FAA failed to manage over the last 40 years because the GA lobby doesn’t want to spend one dime or share airspace with anyone that they don’t have to.

        Some drones are already available with ADS-B In, so they can actively avoid ADS-B Out aircraft, but it won’t always work because, as mentioned, not all manned aviation is required to broadcast all the time.

    2. I have been told that in France they have already implemented something like this and there are WIFI beacons that are available to add to existing drones. I’m trying to find more information on that to see how they work. The person who posted that specifically had a commercially made drone that is similar to one that I own and uses a Zigbee based radio. They said in order to make it work you had to power up the beacon first, and then the drone to make sure the drone picks an a frequency not being used by the WIFI beacon. It looks like Zigbee doesn’t typically hop frequencies after power up so I guess it works, still seems like a risk to me. I’m not sure how a loud wifi transmitter mounted to the drone would effect my DIY drones with conventional 2.4ghz radios. I do know that I had a drone loses radio control and crash after I got ~100ft away because I had a gopro streaming over WIFI on board (and I didn’t have the failsafes set properly).

  10. Any “drone” operating anywhere will need to broadcast an ID (except when flying in a designated “drone” area), but ADS-B isn’t required for all manned aircraft/ultralights operating everywhere.

    I have no doubt complying with this on a Flite Test style foamie will cost more than the rest of the aircraft.

      1. The real trick is that the you have to demonstrate compliance of the ESP32 based module with a FAA accepted means of compliance. While it is possible that some open source/hobbiest level testing methodology will get approved by the FAA, I kind of doubt it.

    1. This is not true.

      Anything weighing less than 250g has no broadcast ID or standard remote ID requirements.

      Ready to fly aircraft that weigh above 250g need to ship with standard remote ID capabilities.

      Everything else requires use of a broadcast ID module provided by the hobbyist. And that “everything else” category is huge. It covers anything you build from scratch (like a Flite Test foamie) to store bought ARFs. If, when you buy it, it still needs things to make it a complete aircraft, it doesn’t need to ship with a standard remote ID system.

      What I predict will happen is a race towards the cheapest compliant standalone broadcast ID module that can be easily swapped to different aircraft along with a demise of RTF packages. Retail unmanned aircraft will be sold without a key component, like a transmitter, or battery, so they can be considered “incomplete.”

      I also predict that we’ll start seeing “fake” broadcast ID modules, ones that intentionally misreport altitude and locations for a specific ID. Or worse/better, systems that intentionally spam all sorts of random IDs, altitudes and locations, just for the lols.

    1. Don’t need to read: the cover shows four different “unmanned aircraft systems”, none of which is a quadcopter. Clearly they had an agenda, and/or had no idea what the issue was.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.