Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Remote Identification is a system to locate and identify a drone while it is flying. It could be considered a digital license plate. The remote identification of unmanned aircraft systems attempts to address security and law enforcement concerns regarding the integration of these aircraft into the national airspace; this while also enabling greater operational capabilities by these same aircraft.

Many groups have provided comment to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on why this rule is necessary. American Public Power Association (see public power), for example, stated that it is a necessary element before any rulemaking that would permit routine Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operation. They also state that remote identification is important for owners of critical infrastructure to identify wayward UAS, whether nefarious or benign.

Over the past year, a number of organizations have stated that this rule would be coming soon. In 2018, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM Page 15) stated that this rule is expected in “early 2019.” That did not happen. Andrew Elefant of Kittyhawk, an enterprise drone software company in San Francisco, CA, also presumed that the rule would be available in 2019.

According to an article in Avionics International (Aviation Today), the “FAA plans to release its remote identification ruling for UAS in July.”

Interdrone was most definitive of all, stating that based on FAA data, the proposed rule would be published on July 21, 2019.

Then, a May 29, 2019, article in Commercial AV News stated that OMB had changed the date to September 2019, which is indeed the case. However, this date may be overly optimistic.

For insight, consider the many steps that go into rule-making in this case.

In the FAA, it used to be that the Office of Rulemaking provides coordination between relevant offices within the FAA. That might have changed some, but a team is formed consisting of an attorney, an economist, and at least one technical expert, such that the team consists of at least four individuals.

Once the team puts together a rule-making package, the relevant offices (including those that are tangent to the rulemaking) within FAA get to provide their input, which then goes back to the team to incorporate. For example, the team may include a provision that has a tangential effect on privacy, and in turn, someone who has a role in privacy issues at the FAA may want to provide input.

After all is said and done, the FAA administrator signs-off on the proposal and then the proposal goes to the Department of Transportation (DOT) for oversight. The DOT attorney and policy people may have their own concerns that need addressing, and so they work with the FAA to iron out these issues.

DOT then sends the rule-making package to OMB for review. The OMB desk officers work with DOT, and DOT defends the entire package. The package can go back and forth between offices (FAA, DOT, and maybe even other Departments) for input and review.

It is only after this time-intensive process that a rule is finalized and published in the Federal Register.

In the case of the UAS Remote Identification rule, regardless of the date identified by OMB, I do not believe that this date will be met unless there is a concerted effort to push this rulemaking through the regulatory process. I have personally worked within the rulemaking process and am optimistically assuming that a month would be required for OMB review, which means that DOT would be completing its review (along with pass backs) in early August 2019 to meet the OMB September date.

Let’s assume that a month is required to clear DOT. That means DOT would be receiving the rulemaking from the FAA in early July. At the time of this article, sources tell me that it has not yet been received by the FAA Administrator, which means that changes are still being made within the FAA (e.g., changes to the proposed rule, regulatory analysis, regulatory flexibility assessment, and paperwork reduction act requirements). Given that it takes time to coordinate and incorporate all changes, optimistically, this proposed rulemaking may not be available for public comment until October or November 2019, at the earliest.