FAA to Require Drones to Display Unique Identifiers

By Frank Wolfe | February 21, 2019
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Quadcopter drone available for commercial purchase.

Ed note: Originally published on our sister site, Rotor & Wing International, which covers rotary wing aircraft.

The FAA has dispensed with the normal notice and comment period of up to 180 days and is proposing a final rule requiring that small unmanned aircraft systems (SUAS) display a “unique identifier.”

The interim final rule, which will take effect Feb. 25, “requires small unmanned aircraft owners to display the unique identifier assigned by the FAA upon completion of the registration process (registration number) on an external surface of the aircraft,” according to a Feb. 13 Federal Register notice. “Small unmanned aircraft owners are no longer permitted to enclose the FAA-issued registration number in a compartment.”

Public comments are due by March 19.

In a 2015 rule, the FAA initially permitted SUAS to have their registration numbers concealed inside the aircraft as a concession to the television and motion picture industry, which did not want markings to show in theatrical and television productions, and hobbyists who wanted to preserve the authenticity of their model aircraft.

But law enforcement officials highlighted the possible risk to first responders, if SUAS had bombs in their inside compartments, rather than registration numbers.

“The FAA is taking this action to address concerns expressed by the law enforcement community and the FAA’s interagency security partners regarding the risk a concealed explosive device poses to first responders who must open a compartment to find the small unmanned aircraft’s registration number,” according to the Feb. 13 Federal Register notice.

The FAA said that it dispensed with the normal public comment period of up to 180 days because of the vulnerabilities to first responders once the background of the proposed rule became known.

“The FAA had intended to make this change shortly after various members of the law enforcement and security
communities communicated their concerns in late 2016 and early 2017,” according to the Feb. 13 Federal Register notice. “The FAA was not able to act immediately, however, due to litigation challenging the applicability of the
Registration IFR to model aircraft…The FAA was reluctant to act during the pendency of the litigation
because model aircraft comprise the largest segment of registered unmanned aircraft that would be subject to the
revised marking requirement.”

The FY 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, P.L. 115-91, however, restored the applicability of Registration IFR to model aircraft, and, “having resolved the applicability issue, the FAA finds that notice and comment would be contrary to the public interest,” according to the Feb. 13 Federal Register notice.

Drone tracking has become a top issue globally since drones shut down operations at Gatwick International Airport near London last December. Industry observers believe that the FAA will eventually require all aircraft flying in the National Airspace System, including hobby drones and light sport aircraft, to be equipped with a Remote ID system.

The FAA last month began soliciting public comment on the safety and national security risks of small UAS, and the agency is also reviewing proposed rule changes that would allow additional flights at night and over people without a waiver.

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