United States: Expanded Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations - FAA Publishes Long-Awaited Final Rules on Remote Identification and Operations Over People

In brief

After rulemaking processes that collectively lasted nearly two years and garnered nearly 54,000 cumulative comments, on January 15, 2021, the FAA concurrently published its long-awaited rules on the Remote Identification (“Remote ID”) of Unmanned Aircraft (“Remote ID Rule”) and Operations Over People (“OOP Rule”).  These rules are essential to the advancement of innovative commercial unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS”) applications and the acceleration of routine expanded UAS operations.  The Remote ID Rule establishes a framework for the development of an unmanned traffic management (“UTM”) system that will enable the full integration of UAS into the National Airspace System (“NAS”).  The OOP Rule, which also addresses UAS flights at night, is the first expansion of the FAA’s small UAS (“sUAS”) regulations in 14 C.F.R. Part 107 (“Part 107”) since they went into effect on August 29, 2016.  Our previous summary of the Remote ID Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) is available here, and our summary of the OOP NPRM is available here.


Contents

The final Remote ID and OOP Rules represent an important step in the evolution of UAS regulation and lay the groundwork for future advancements, such as a proposed rule on UAS flights beyond visual line of sight (“BVLOS”).  The FAA is making significant progress towards the full integration of UAS into the NAS with these rules and other recent developments, including the approval of autonomous UAS flights and UAS type certification.  The FAA’s rulemaking efforts, particularly on BVLOS operations, will directly affect the scalability of innovative and high-demand UAS applications, such as package delivery, inspections, and public safety.

Below is a summary of the regulatory framework and requirements of each rule, as well as what they mean for UAS stakeholders and the future of UAS operations in the United States.

In more detail

Remote ID

The Remote ID establishes requirements for the remote identification of unmanned aircraft to be operated in US airspace under new regulations in 14 C.F.R Part 89 (“Part 89”) that will become effective on March 16, 2021. Under the Remote ID Rule, any unmanned aircraft that is required to be registered with the FAA must be compliant with Remote ID requirements, meaning all unmanned aircraft weighing over .55 pounds or being operated under Part 107 (without regard to minimum weight. After going into effect on March 16, 2021, the Remote ID Rule provides for an 18-month implementation period for manufacturers of unmanned aircraft that will be operated in the US and a 30-month implementation period for unmanned aircraft operators in the US to meet all applicable Remote ID requirements. After the implementation periods, no unmanned aircraft required to comply with Remote ID requirements may be manufactured or operated in the US unless it complies with the rule's equipage and broadcast requirements.

The FAA made several important changes between the NPRM and the final Remote ID Rule in response to concerns raised in comments to the NPRM from recreational flyers, UAS and other aviation manufacturers, UAS interest groups, airlines, state and local governments, news media organizations, academia, and others. These changes include:

  • Elimination of the Network Transmission Requirement. The FAA replaced the concept of network transmission (via internet connection) of unmanned aircraft Remote ID information originally proposed in the NPRM with a “broadcast-only solution," whereby Remote ID information must be broadcast over radio frequency spectrum (“Broadcast Remote ID”).
  • The Introduction of Broadcast Modules.  The Remote ID Rule introduced and adopted the concept of the Remote ID broadcast module, which may be used to retrofit unmanned aircraft that do not meet Standard Remote ID requirements. Broadcast modules will allow unmanned aircraft without integrated Remote ID capability to identify remotely. The FAA also updated the Remote ID design and production requirements for unmanned aircraft that will be operated in the NAS to include broadcast modules. 
  • Establishing Three Means of Compliance with Operational Requirements. With the elimination of the network requirement and the introduction of broadcast modules, the Remote ID Rule established three ways to comply with its operational requirements: 1) operate a Standard Remote ID unmanned aircraft that broadcasts identification, location, and performance information of the unmanned aircraft and its control station; 2) operate an unmanned aircraft with a Remote ID broadcast module; or 3) operate an unmanned aircraft without Remote ID at specific FAA-recognized identification areas (“FRIAs”).
  • Introduction of Performance-Based Design and Production requirements. In addition to the above operational requirements, the Remote ID Rule requires manufacturers of Standard Remote ID unmanned aircraft and broadcast modules to comply with certain performance-based design and production requirements to describe desired outcomes, goals, and results, as opposed to mandating specific design and production requirements and processes. Under this approach, manufacturers of Standard Remote ID unmanned aircraft and broadcast modules for operation in the US must show that the relevant device meets the requirements of an FAA-accepted means of compliance ("AMOC"). The rule also requires that manufacturers issue each Standard Remote ID unmanned aircraft or broadcast module a serial number that complies with the ANSI/CTA-2063-A standard. Manufacturers must also both label the device and submit a declaration of compliance to the FAA indicating that the device complies with Part 89.

Operations Over People

The OOP Rule sets out the requirements for routine operations of sUAS over people and authorizes nighttime operations -- both without the need for a Part 107 waiver.  Under Part 107, absent a waiver, operations over people were very limited and generally could only be conducted over people who were participating in the operation or shielded by a vehicle or structure.  The OOP Rule covers four main areas: operations over people, operations over moving vehicles, nighttime operations, and other Part 107 amendments.

The risk-based categories 1-3 impose increasing requirements as the level of risk increases, with Category 1 being the least risky:

  • Category 1 operations cover sUAS weighing less than 0.55 pounds (inclusive of payload) and that do not contain any exposed rotating parts that would lacerate skin on contact. Under the rule, the remote pilot in command is responsible for making the determinations.  The rule prohibits sustained operations over open-air assemblies unless the operation complies with Remote ID requirements.
  • Category 2 operations apply to sUAS weighing more than 0.55 pounds, but that do not have airworthiness certificates. Category 2 requirements are performance-based and must meet the following three criteria:  1) the sUAS must not cause injury to a human over the specified severity; 2) as with Category 1 operations, the sUAS must not contain exposed rotating parts that would cause lacerations; 3) the sUAS must be free from safety defects. In addition, the sUAS must be appropriately labeled, include remote pilot operating instructions, and be subject to a product support process.
  • Category 3 operations are similar to Category 2 operations (e.g. limits on injury levels, no exposed parts that can lacerate skin, and no safety defects), but carry with them a higher injury severity limit than Category 2. Notably, Category 3 operations can only be conducted over open-air assemblies if they are restricted and all participants have received notice that the sUAS may be operating over them.  In addition, the sUAS may not maintain sustained flight over any persons not directly participating in the operation or in a covered structure or stationary vehicle that can provide protection.  Importantly, the restricted access site must sufficiently ensure that access is limited to participants meeting the requirements.

The OOP Rule also contains several new requirements for applicants to affirmatively declare and demonstrate the safety of their operations. Notably, the applicant must demonstrate that the sUAS satisfy these requirements by using an AMOC, which must be accepted by the FAA before an applicant can rely on the AMOC to declare its compliance.

In response to comments to the OOP NPRM, the FAA added a new Category 4 relating to sUAS that receive airworthiness certificates. Under the OOP Rule, sUAS that have been issued an airworthiness certificate under 14 C.F.R. Part 21 (“Part 21”) are eligible to operate over people under the rule as long as such operations are not prohibited by the approved Flight Manual or Administrator under the applicable Part 21 certificate. Category 4 operations have maintenance requirements for the use of the prescribed methods in the manufacturer’s maintenance manual or Instructions for Continued Airworthiness (or other methods as accepted by the FAA).

Categories 1, 2, and 4 operations that involve sustained flight over open-air assemblies must have Standard Remote ID or be equipped with a Remote ID broadcast module, meaning that these operations must comply with applicable Remote ID requirements even before the end of the 30-month implementation period in the Remote ID Rule for unmanned aircraft operators.

Operations over Moving Vehicles

The FAA determined that operations of sUAS over people who are inside moving vehicles can be conducted safely, under limited circumstances.  The OOP Rule requires that the sUAS meet the requirements for Category 1 - 4. For categories 1, 2 and 3, the sUAS can transit over moving vehicles, provided that it either does not maintain sustained flight over the vehicles or the vehicles are on a closed/restricted site where people are on notice that an sUAS may fly over.

Operations at Night

As in the NPRM, the OOP Rule requires that remote pilots operating at night equip their sUAS with an anti-collision light visible for three statute miles. The OOP Rule also adds the requirement for the anti-collision lights to flash at a rate sufficient to avoid a collision.

As with the Remote ID Rule, the OOP Rule builds on the "performance-based regulatory philosophy" in Part 107, with the goal of enabling the regulatory framework to evolve with UAS technologies. 

Next Steps in the UAS Regulatory Framework

While more progress must be made, these rules address most of the regulation needed for UAS to operate within visual line of sight and now enable the FAA to turn its focus to BVLOS operations as its next major regulatory action. UAS applications that rely on BVLOS flights and represent the greatest demand include public safety, industrial inspections, and small package delivery. Through its BEYOND and UAS Test Site programs, the FAA is currently working with key stakeholders in these areas to develop a framework for the long-anticipated BVLOS proposed rule. 

Ideally, given the increasing demand for UAS services demonstrated by the pandemic, the use of UAS in sustainability initiatives, and the rapid strides being made in UAS technologies, the FAA’s rulemaking process will accelerate.  By taking advantage of the momentum created by these rules and the new Administration’s focus on technology and smart and sustainable infrastructure, the FAA has an opportunity to promote its global leadership in aviation innovation while also facilitating much-needed UAS integration.

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