Bottom line: Drone makers and enthusiasts will soon have to comply with new rules proposed by the FAA that will require every device to broadcast a radio signal that can be tracked in near real-time by law enforcement. The draft will be subject for public comments over the next 60 days, after which officials will finalize the regulation, giving everyone up to three years to comply.
Drones are permeating through both the consumer and business space, so the Federal Aviation Administration has a sweeping proposal that will require pretty much all but the smallest to incorporate radio technology that would enable remote tracking them in near real-time whenever they fly inside United States' airspace.
The FAA says the current draft is an important step towards creating a tracking network for law enforcement to be able to spot and identify around 1.5 million drones that are currently registered in the US. The FAA has posted the document online and is asking for feedback from the public on the matter for the next two months.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in a press release that "drones are the fastest growing segment of transportation in our nation and it is vitally important that they are safely integrated into the national airspace."
Previously, the biggest safety concerns were centered on the risk of collision in areas like airports, near military bases and stadiums, but as more drones roam the airspace, the FAA wants to ensure the new rules prevent any unwanted incidents. In other words, the situational awareness and traffic management of drones are problems that officials want to figure out before drones start to crowd the air.
The way the new rules work is that any drone that weighs more than 0.55 pounds (or 0.25 kilograms) has to be able to broadcast its serial number or a randomly-generated machine ID for those who are more privacy-conscious.
Lisa Ellman, executive director of the Commercial Drone Alliance, told CNBC that their "main concern is the implementation period, which is needlessly up to 3 years. Until remote ID is implemented, the American public will be deprived of many of the vast safety, humanitarian and efficiency benefits of commercial drones."
Ellman believes the rules should apply as soon as possible, something the House Committee on Transportation also expressed in a letter sent to the FAA earlier this year.
Popular drone maker DJI said in a press release that it's reviewing FAA's proposal, but also noted that it "has long advocated for a Remote Identification system that would provide safety, security and accountability for authorities." The company's drones have had such a system under the AeroScope branding since 2017, and recently demonstrated a way to automatically broadcast drone tracking information to nearby phones.
DJI's Brendan Schulman further expressed concerns about the added cost of remote identification systems. "As we review the FAA’s proposal, we will be guided by the principle, recognized by the FAA’s own Aviation Rulemaking Committee in 2017, that Remote Identification will not be successful if the burdens and costs to drone operators are not minimized."
Needless to be said, the FAA doesn't want you to weaponize your drone unless you're ready to pay a hefty fine for each violation. And you are also required to clearly mark your FAA registration number on your drone. Meanwhile, the FAA is trying to fast-track the new regulation, which is estimated to cost $584 million for drone makers and owners to apply over the next decade.