In April of 2021, the FAA made the most significant change to the UAS rules since the release of Part 107. The update addressed night operations, flying over people, and the requirement for Remote ID. The FAA describes Remote ID as a “digital license plate” and an essential step to standardized missions beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). The FAA gave the drone community 36 months to comply, which seemed like an eternity at the time. Well, that deadline is upon us! All commercial UAS operations need to comply by September 16th, 2023. (UPDATE from Sept 13th: FAA Extends compliance date to March 13th, 2024) In this post, I will update you on where we are with Remote ID and how to comply with the new rules.
What is Remote ID
Remote ID is a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth signal broadcast from the drone. The signal transmits the drone's unique ID number, remote ID serial number, GPS coordinates & altitude, velocity, time stamp, and the controller's location or takeoff position. One of the primary reasons for its implementation is to help police enforce UAS rules. Personal information is not broadcast directly. Law enforcement will use the Remote ID serial number and contact their FAA Law Enforcement Assistance Program (LEAP) agent to obtain personal information on who the drone is registered to.
Standard Remote ID Drones
There are three ways to operate a drone under Part 107 rules after September 16th. The first is with “Standard Remote ID.” Standard Remote ID is when the drone comes from the manufacturer equipped with the hardware and software built in to comply with the regulations. This is intended to be the permanent means of compliance as legacy drones become functionally obsolete. All drones sold in 2023 are required to be Remote ID compliant. The FAA has provided a list of drones with an approved Declaration of Compliance. It isn’t the most user-friendly page; however, there is a search box to look up specific drones by status, type, make, and model. You will notice that most newer drones by the major manufacturers, such as the Mavic 3, Matric 350, and Evo II are on the list.
You’re Not Compliant with Your New Drone Until...
Even if you bought a new drone in 2023, you still aren’t compliant. Your drone will have the hardware and software to comply; however, you must update your registration in the FAA’s Drone Zone portal. Log into your Drone Zone account, go to your Part 107 dashboard, and select your “Inventory.” Find your drone, click the three-dot-icon, and select edit. A window will open that asks you, “Does your drone broadcast FAA Remote ID Information?” Select the “yes” radial button and fill out the information required. The drone serial number will be the default for the remote ID serial number in the portal. However, be aware that the drone and remote ID serial numbers may not be the same. I’ll talk more about this in a minute. Older drones will require a Remote ID Broadcast Module, so you must enter the module’s unique serial number in that field. More on that to come also. The FAA is waiving the $5 registration fee to update your drone information until September 16th.
What about my Mavic 2 and Phantom 4 Pro V2?
There has been a lot of angst about some of the popular older models, such as the Phantom 4 Pro V2 and the Mavic 2 line, not being compliant. I can give you at least a partial answer to this. DJI released a list of drones that will be compliant soon. The Mavic Air 2 will have a firmware update to comply by September 30th. The Phantom 4 Pro V2, Mavic 2 Pro, and Mavic 2 Zoom will have their firmware update by December 31st. The rules take effect September 16th, so there will be a gap. If you’re going to fly these drones during the gap, you will need to use the Remote ID Broadcast module or fly in a FRIA. More on these two options in a minute.
How do I find my Remote ID Serial Number?
As I mentioned, the drone serial number and the remote ID serial number are different. You’ll need to know your remote ID serial number to update your drone in the FAA’s Drone Zone portal. You will need both serial numbers when registering new drones from here on out. Because the drone manufacturers must be ANSI F3411-22a compliant, all remote ID serial numbers will be 20 characters long. If you think you have the remote ID serial number, but it’s less than 20 characters, you probably don’t have the right number. The start of the serial number is based on the particular manufacturer. DJI serial numbers will always start with 1581F. Each manufacturer is a little different, but to find your remote ID serial number on a DJI aircraft, begin by turning on your aircraft and controller. Make sure you have all of your firmware updated. Go to the controller menu, select the “about” tab, and find the “Flight Controller SN.” The Flight Controller SN is the remote ID serial number and will start with 1581F.It may or may not be the same as the Aircraft SN.
Remote ID Broadcast Module
The second means of compliance is to add an aftermarket Remote ID Broadcast Module. These modules transmit almost the same information as with Standard Remote ID. The main difference is that the Standard Remote ID indicates the current location of the controller, whereas the module shows where the drone took off. The remote ID module's means of compliance was the FAA's attempt not to ground fleets of otherwise flight-worthy drones. In concept, I like the idea. However, adding these modules in practice will be difficult, especially for small drones. These drones were not designed for an aftermarket device bolted on.
In many cases, there isn’t a good place to attach the module, and the user is left using Velcro or tape to secure it. If not done carefully, the module can dislodge mid-flight. It also changes the center of gravity, reducing stability and battery performance. It’s a reasonable workaround but far from ideal. The two leading module manufacturers in the circles I travel are DroneTag and PingRID. Both are about the same size and cost around $300. If you’re using a Remote ID module, you will need to update your registration at the FAA’s Drone Zone portal just like with Standard Remote ID. Under Part 107 rules, it’s a one-to-one ratio for drones and modules. You can't use one module for multiple drones.
The third means of compliance is flying your non-compliant drones in FAA-Recognized Identification Areas or “FRIA’s” (pronounced free-ah). FRIA’s are fixed geographic areas where drones do not need to comply with the Remote ID rules. This option isn’t helpful for commercial drone operations as the pilot and aircraft must always be in the FRIA. Only community-based organizations (CBOs) and educational institutions can apply for a FRIA. This is an excellent option for universities that want to have an area for training and not worry about bringing their older drones up to the new standard. I did this with my lab at Clemson. CBOs and education institutions complete a reasonably straightforward application through FAA’s Drone Zone portal. As of the writing of this post, the FAA has approximately 1,000 FRIA applications and only 14 approved. (Mine was one of the 14!!!) The central bottleneck was how to conduct an environmental impact study. I’m not sure exactly what went into that, but apparently, the process has been streamlined, and they are churning out approvals much faster now.
Will the September 16th Deadline Be Postponed?
Those of you following this issue may remember that the first deadline associated with Remote ID was September 16th of 2022, when only Remote ID compliant drones could be sold by the manufacturers. Many manufacturers were not able to meet this deadline. There are several reasons for this, including the slow roll out of the specific standards they were supposed to meet. As such, the FAA delayed this deadline by two months. We are in a similar situation now. There aren’t many remote broadcast modules, and several popular models won’t be compliant until the end of the year. Several FAA officials have told me, including the Executive Director of the UAS Integration Office, that this deadline is FIRM and not to expect an extension.
Okay, so here are the key things you need to know. Check the FAA’s Declaration of Compliance page to see if you’re drone is Remote ID compliant. If it is, you still need to update your drone’s information on the FAA’s Drone Zone website. It’s free for now, but it won’t be forever. If your drone isn’t Remote ID Compliant, you must purchase a Remote Broadcast ID Module. The DroneTag and PingRID are popular modules, but I’m sure others also work well. If you go with another module, double check it’s on the FAA’s Declaration of Compliance page. You will need to update your drone’s Remote ID information on the FAA’s Drone Zone website with these also.