The FAA published its final rule on remote identification of drones—a revision to Part 89 in Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations—in April 2021. The rule is set to take full effect in just a few months. And if they haven’t already, it’s time for drone pilots to prepare.
The FAA’s remote ID rule mandates that by September 16 all drones registered with the agency must also be capable of publicly broadcasting certain information, such as a unique ID number and real-time location data. That means businesses, law enforcement agencies, and even recreational flyers will have two months to make sure they’re compliant.
Remote ID is essentially a digital license plate for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Typically, this allows drones to broadcast their ID number, location, altitude, velocity, flight time, and control station or takeoff location—and sometimes more. That data is available to private and public stakeholders like local law enforcement, which can then notify the FAA of unsafe flight or request an aircraft be grounded. Or, it can simply obtain more information about the drone.
Luckily, though, the rule isn’t as complicated as it sounds. Here’s everything drone pilots need to know before the September 16 deadline:
Do I Have to Use a Remote ID?
The short answer is yes. But there are some exceptions.
The FAA calls for all drones required to be registered with the agency to comply with the remote ID rule. But not all drones have that requirement. If your aircraft weighs less than 0.55 pounds and flies under the FAA’s Exception for Limited Recreational Operations—which simply requires passage of the Recreational UAS Safety Test to obtain—then the rule won’t apply.
Drones can also be flown without remote ID within FAA-recognized identification areas. These are areas of highly monitored airspace dedicated to drone flight and established via applications by educational institutions or FAA-recognized community-based organizations, such as the Academy of Model Aeronautics. These flights must be conducted within the pilot’s visual line of sight.
If you don’t meet these requirements and still want to fly without remote ID, there are a few more exceptions. For example, the FAA can waive compliance with the rule if the operator is approved to conduct aeronautical research. Part 89 also allows the agency to “authorize deviations” from the requirements in special cases, such as for home-built aircraft.
How Do I Know If My Drone Has Remote ID?
Since September, the vast majority of manufactured drones are now required to include remote ID-compliant hardware. But that wasn’t always the case.
If you purchased a drone before December (or bought a used model later), you can check the FAA website to see if your aircraft has a Declaration of Compliance (DOC). The DOC is the agency’s sign-off that a drone has remote ID broadcasting capabilities.
UAS with built-in remote ID are what the FAA refers to as standard. The catalogs of major brands like DJI and Parrot largely feature standard models.
If you find your drone isn’t on the DOC list, don’t panic. Recreational and Part 107 pilots can retrofit their drones with remote ID capabilities by flying with a remote ID broadcast module. Companies such as uAvionix, Dronetag, and others offer FAA-approved modules that can make just about any drone compliant.
The caveat is that this limits pilots to visual-line-of-sight operations. And per Part 89, ADS-B Out and ATC-compliant transponders are off-limits, unless the FAA gives the green light.
Crucially, adding a remote ID module to a nonstandard drone requires the operator to register with the FAA, even if they already listed it. More on that below.
How Do I Register My Remote ID Drone?
Depending on the type of operations a pilot is looking to conduct, there are a few ways to go about registering a drone with remote ID. If you’re just starting your drone pilot journey and have yet to register, check out FLYING’s handy Part 107 certification guide instead.
For recreational flyers with one or more drones already in the FAA’s database, the process is straightforward. After navigating to the recreational pilot dashboard within FAADroneZone, users can click “add device,” which will prompt them to select either a standard or broadcast module remote ID drone.
For standard drones, the pilot need only enter the model’s remote ID serial number, which can be found on the device itself or the controller. If retrofitting a nonstandard drone, the broadcast module will also have a remote ID serial number, which the pilot must enter along with the make and model of the drone(s) that will use it. And that’s about it!
The process is similar for Part 107 pilots editing existing registrations. Within FAADroneZone’s Part 107 dashboard, users should click “manage device inventory,” bring up the “actions” menu by clicking on the three dots, and select “edit.” Then, edit the answer to the remote ID question to “yes” and enter the remote ID serial number of the drone or broadcast module.
Part 107 flyers looking to add a new remote ID drone can also start the process from the “manage device inventory” tab. Simply click “add device,” answer “yes” to the remote ID question, and enter the proper remote ID serial number.
Important to note is that all Part 107 pilots must register each device—whether standard or retrofit with a broadcast module—individually, giving each a unique registration number. This is not true for recreational flyers, who may use the same registration number to cover all devices in their inventory. This also allows them to transfer broadcast modules from drone to drone.
Remote ID compliance will likely come as a nuisance to some pilots, but following these steps and ensuring your drone is properly registered is important. Failure to do so could result in your drone pilot license being revoked—or worse, a civil penalty of up to $27,500 depending on the violation.
Our recommendation? Get the dirty work out of the way before September 16, and rest easy.