Exclusive interview: FAA gives insight into Remote ID enforcement plans

One of the biggest stories in the drone industry has been the Federal Aviation Administration’s final rule for remote ID, which mandates a way that drones must provide identification and location information. But perhaps one of the bigger stories in drones is the fact that — while the Remote ID deadline was still technically Sept. 16, 2023 (as was always intended — the FAA announced just days ahead of that date that it would extend Remote ID enforcement by six months.

Under the FAA’s final rule for Remote ID, there are essentially four types of legal, remote ID-compliant drone flights in the U.S. based on the size of your drone and where it’s flying. And for most of those drone flights, operators are required to transmit their identification, location, and other information to ground stations and other aircraft. That’s done either through a separate Remote ID module, or via built-in Remote ID capability designed by the manufacturer.  All U.S. drone flights were required to fit into one of those four categories as of Sept. 16, 2023. And, well, they still are required to.

But now there’s some nuance. As was announced this month, the FAA won’t actually begin enforcing Remote ID-compliant flights amongst drone pilots until March 16, 2024.

So why did the FAA make the last-minute, public change? What should drone pilots expect come March 2024? What does enforcement mean in practice?

The Drone Girl caught up with Kevin Morris, who works as the UAS/AAM Coordinator for the FAA — and is also known as the FAA Drone Guy. Morris joins the Drone Girl in an exclusive Q&A to clarify some rumors and shed insights into how the FAA is thinking about Remote ID enforcement.

Drone Girl: Why did the FAA postpone the September Remote ID deadline?

Kevin Morris: One thing I want to mention right away is that the deadline for drone pilots to comply with Remote ID has not changed. Drone pilots are still expected to comply with the rule, however we understand that for a variety of reasons they may not be able to.

DG: Okay okay, excellent clarification — thank you! So I’ll rephrase: Why is the FAA extending enforcement?

KM: The FAA issued an enforcement policy after receiving significant public feedback, multiple requests for extensions, the lack of available broadcast modules and limited FAA-Recognized Identification Area (FRIA) approvals. This policy can help drone pilots who are unable to comply with the Remote ID requirements by allowing the FAA to use its discretion and not conduct an enforcement investigation if a drone pilot is operating without Remote ID.

DG: Why was September initially set to be the Remote ID enforcement date?

KM: September 16, 2023, is one year after the requirement for manufacturers to begin producing standard Remote ID equipped drones. We refer to these as “compliance dates”. When the proposed rule was published in 2019, we believed the compliance date for drone pilots provided enough lead time for manufacturers of standard Remote ID drones and Remote ID broadcast modules to make their products widely available to the market.

 DG: That makes sense. I guess you didn’t forecast a global pandemic back in 2019, which led to a lot of disruptions, including supply chain problems. So why was March 16, 2024 selected as the new, postponed date?

KM: The FAA carefully considered the data on production cycles for standard Remote ID drones, the availability of broadcast modules, approved FRIA locations and public feedback. We felt that a 6-month period of discretionary enforcement would be enough time for drone pilots to become compliant with the requirements of Remote ID.

DG: So come March 16, 2024, what should drone pilots expect in terms of enforcement?

KM: March 16, 2024, marks the end of the policy allowing the FAA to use its discretion in whether or not to conduct enforcement. After that date, if a drone pilot is found to be in noncompliance with the Remote ID rule, the FAA will follow its Compliance Program and address the issue.

DG: What does the Compliance Program entail?

KM: The FAA’s Compliance Program affords the FAA a wide range of corrective actions from verbal counseling to fines and suspension/revocation of a Remote Pilot Certificate. The type of corrective action depends heavily on the individual circumstances surrounding the noncompliance.

DG: Now time to dig into the rumor mill. I’m seeing some folks say that the FAA will have to postpone the March 16, 2024 date, too. Is there a chance that could happen?

KM: The FAA is not planning on providing additional relief past March 16, 2024.

DG: Fair enough, but just to dig even deeper into the rumor mill, I’m seeing some folks say it’ll never end up being enforced, period. What would you say to those people?

KM: I would say that’s not true. The FAA oversees the most complex and safest aerospace system in the world. Our mission is to keep that system safe and efficient, and our regulations provide a framework for meeting our mission. Remote ID rules are a necessary component in aviation’s evolution and for the continued safe integration of drones. When the FAA discovers instances of noncompliance, it will investigate them. This includes enforcing the Remote ID requirement.

DG: So the tl;dr is that Remote ID is now in effect, but that enforcement of the rule won’t kick in until March 16, 2024.

KM: The biggest thing to remember with the recent policy on Remote ID is that it provides additional time for those drone pilots who are unable to comply with the rule. There could be a variety of reasons a drone pilot might not be able to comply and the FAA recognizes that. For those drone pilots, the FAA has the option to not conduct an enforcement investigation.

DG: Does this change anything for people who already bought a Remote ID module or who fly a drone that is equipped with built-in Remote ID capability?

KM: As I mentioned earlier, the FAA expects compliance with the rule. If you have a Remote ID broadcast module or a standard Remote ID equipped drone, the FAA expects you comply with the Remote ID rule. Drone pilots who do not want to comply with the rule or are avoiding complying with the rule, may not be eligible for the discretionary enforcement policy.

For more from Kevin and his colleagues at the FAA, follow Kevin’s personal Twitter account or follow the FAA’s drone-specific Twitter account at @FAADroneZone.

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