Editor's Note 1/7/21: Much has changed with and for Remote ID since this article was published. Click here for the latest info about Remote ID for drones.

At a recent hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, FAA UAS Integration Office Executive Director Jay Merkle said that the agency is seriously contemplating releasing its remote identification ruling for drones in July this year. The hearing is looking specifically at the integration of unconventional aircraft into the National Airspace System (NAS).

A few days after Merkle’s comments, on May 23, the website for the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs updated the publication of the NPRM to September of this year, once again moving the goal post for the implementation of this important event.

Remote ID rules — often compared to N-Registration for manned aircraft to the equivalent for UAVs — would permit police officers, aviation authorities and other public officials to search for a drone by a broadcast unique identifier and find out who the operator is. As the recently released Remote ID & Commercial Drones whitepaper lays out, the system balances the needs of law enforcement and air traffic control to ensure public safety and the interests of compliant, law abiding drone pilots. A potential ruling will work in parallel with the inevitable registration rules aimed at preventing rogue flights in close proximity to airports or other sensitive areas. However, that’s just the beginning of how this kind of solution will change the industry.

“We are working currently to ensure that we keep the policy component along with standards and Remote ID infrastructure all developed and harmonized,” Said Merkle.

As expected, Remote ID is not without controversy, and there are critics who argue that it exposes too much operator private information. The FAA disagrees with this position, stating that it is necessary since the operator is not onboard the vehicle and that anonymity creates an unacceptable lack of accountability. The current issue being discussed is who will have access to the information, but everyone seems to agree it’s too early to argue a point that has not been ruled on yet.

On May 16, a few days after Merkle’s hearing, a group of 34 organizations, including the Airline Pilots Association, the Commercial Drone Alliance and the Small UAV Coalition, sent a letter to Congress, specifically to The Honorable Russell Vought, Acting Director Office of Management and Budget, requesting in strong terms the implementation of the Remote ID ruling.

“As leading industry associations, aviation stakeholders, and labor unions, we all have significant concerns pertaining to the continued delay of the remote identification rulemaking and the adverse implications of that delay on the safety and security of airspace as well as on the future of the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) industry. We urge the Administration to convene key federal agency stakeholders including the FAA, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Justice to collaborate on publishing a rule on remote identification without further delay,” the letter states in its opening paragraph.

The letter is important because the signing organizations are an incredible mix of manned and unmanned aviation organizations, chambers of commerce, industry advocates and pilots associations that accurately reflect the concerns of everyone involved in operating in the National Airspace (NAS). It goes on to warn Congress of the dangers of the USA losing its vantage position in the world when it comes to UAV innovation and the dangers associated with falling behind in that industry:

“In addition to addressing the safety and security risks, remote identification will unlock the benefits of advanced UAS operations that will allow for the United States to lead in developing innovative UAS applications such as delivery, surveying, filmmaking, and search and rescue. For example, the final rule on “Operation of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Over People” is contingent upon a final action on remote identification. Failure to expeditiously address remote identification curtails these expanded operations, hinders U.S. global competitiveness, and increases the likelihood that innovation will move overseas.”

We reached out to Andrew Elefant, Director of Policy at Kittyhawk for comments on the possibility of a formal ruling this year.

“Remote ID is arguably the most important UAV-related policy issue currently under development,” Elefant said. “Remote ID is important because it is an essential building block to progress on many other high-priority policy goals and high-ROI advanced operations. The February NPRM for operations over people and at night made clear that final rules for these operations won't happen without a final rule for Remote ID, so Remote ID is starting to look like a bottleneck limiting the next wave of UAV-related FAA rule-making.”

A firm Remote ID ruling is necessary to allow Operations over people and at night as well as operations beyond visual line of sight.

“I'm optimistic that the FAA will put forth a Remote ID NPRM in September without further delay,” Elefant told Commercial UAV News. “I'm optimistic because progress is being made in developing standards for Remote ID and real-world demonstrations of Remote ID capabilities like the InterUSS project have shown what is already technologically possible. Standards organizations like ASTM look to be on track to release standards for broadcast and network Remote ID in 2019, and these standards should help guide the actual implementation of Remote ID rules.”

Remote ID is also entering the public consciousness as drones have been sighted flying above sports stadiums and allegedly near airports. As the aforementioned Remote ID & Commercial Drones whitepaper explains, transparency in the NAS is essential since it allows operators to broadcast that they can be trusted and gets the public more comfortable with increasingly ubiquitous drone operations. It’s also the reason that so many different stakeholders are committed to this solution.

“It's not just industry groups pushing hard to keep Remote ID on track. Elected officials, public safety groups, and the general public understand that Remote ID will make the national airspace safer for everyone and want disruptive or illegal drone operators to be held accountable.” Elefant concluded.

Regardless of the timing of the final regulation, stakeholders throughout the drone industry agree that Remote ID is a key component of a safer integration of unmanned vehicles into the NAS. Though plenty have gone on the record, it remains difficult to predict exactly when we’ll see a ruling, which is just one of the reasons Remote ID remains one of the hottest topics in commercial drones in 2019.