FAA Establishes Committee to Develop Rules for Identifying UAS Vehicles

By Bradley R. Gardner

As the number of unmanned aircraft operating in the skies continues to increase, it has become critical that authorities be capable of identifying the owner or operator of a UAS vehicle that is being operated in an unsafe or illegal manner. Unlike traditional aircraft, there are currently no rules or even guidance for requiring UAS vehicles to electronically broadcast identifying information. In order to come up with a solution, in late June the Federal Aviation Administration created an Aviation Rulemaking Committee tasked with: Identifying and recommending technologies for remote identification and tracking of UAS vehicles, identifying requirements for meeting the security and public safety needs of government agencies, including law enforcement, for remotely identifying and tracking UAS vehicles, and evaluating the feasibility and affordability of the potential solutions, and determining how well those potential solutions address the needs of the relevant government agencies. Committee members include representatives from more than 70 stakeholders, including manufacturers, UAS operators, law enforcement agencies, and research groups. A full list of the Committee members can be found on the FAA's website.
It remains to be seen how the Committee will approach the issue, and whether its recommendations will apply to all UAS vehicles or whether “small” UAS vehicles that weigh less than 55 pounds will be exempted. Additionally, with technology rapidly advancing in the UAS space, the Committee is likely to have a number of options available to it with respect to what technological avenue to pursue. Given the FAA’s push towards a “NextGen” air traffic system, it seems likely that ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast) will play a role in the remote identification of UAS vehicles. ADS-B, as it is used in traditional aircraft, can broadcast GPS-derived position information as well as identification information to air traffic controllers and the FAA. In fact, a number of manufacturers have recently announced UAS-centric ADS-B products. Practical considerations, such as weight and electrical power needs, are likely to present interesting challenges for the Committee as it tries to formulate solutions for smaller UAS vehicles that may already be operating near capacity. Despite the challenges faced by the Committee, UAS operators and manufacturers should expect that in the not-too-distant future they will be required to equip their UAS vehicles with some method of remote identification. 
As of this writing, the Committee has met twice and will continue to meet as necessary to complete its tasks.

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