FAA Unveils Final Drone Rules for Remote ID, Nighttime Flights and Operations Over Humans


Unmanned aircraft systems will have to broadcast their “digital license plates” to legally zip around most places in the future. 

The Federal Aviation Administration announced and released two final, expansive rules Monday to govern drone flights across U.S. skies. 

The long-anticipated regulations outline permitted drone operations—including above people and at night—and lay out the agency’s Remote ID requirements to promote the identification of devices in use. Both were recently submitted by FAA to the Office of the Federal Register and would go into effect 60 days after they’re published, which the agency expects will be sometime in January.

Release of the rules comes at a ripe time for unmanned aircraft systems, which FAA said in its announcement “represent the fastest-growing segment in the entire transportation sector” with 1.7 million drone registrations and 203,000 FAA-certificated remote pilots. In 2019, FAA certified a subsidiary of package-delivery giant United Parcel Services to operate a national drone airline system for the first time ever and companies like Amazon and Walmart, among others, are also making moves to develop and certify their own drone fleets. 

“The new rules make way for the further integration of drones into our airspace by addressing safety and security concerns,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a statement. “They get us closer to the day when we will more routinely see drone operations such as the delivery of packages.”

The more than 450-page Remote Identification of Unmanned Aircraft Final Rule sets the agency’s standard for Remote ID, which it describes as a “digital license plate” for drones. The rule mandates that all UAS requiring FAA registration must be able to remotely identify themselves via broadcast modules or built-in means that disseminate location details and identification. Notably, the final rule eliminated network-based and internet transmission requirements laid out in the agency’s first, previously proposed rule, and incorporates these broadcast-only standards. Drones without Remote ID capabilities will only be able to fly in specific FAA-recognized identification areas that are set to be determined down the line. 

FAA allows drone manufacturers 18 months (after the rule goes into effect) until devices weighing in at more than 0.55 pounds must be equipped with Remote ID capabilities. Pilots are given 30 months to retrofit their existing UAS—or buy new ones with necessary broadcasting means. 

Through its almost 300-page Operation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Over People Final Rule FAA also outlines new guidelines permitting certain drone flights at night, and over the heads of humans that aren’t directly using the UAS. For non-daytime flights, drones must have anti-collision lights and pilots must also complete explicit tasks to comply. 

Unlike the initially proposed rule, this version also includes provisions for operating the aircraft over moving vehicles, in certain, specific cases. Another change incorporated aims to ensure some small drones don’t have any exposed rotating parts that might lacerate human skin.  

“These final rules carefully address safety, security and privacy concerns while advancing opportunities for innovation and utilization of drone technology,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said.