Do you remember when, just before Christmas, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) published a proposal that would let them track every drone flying in US airspace? These new rules have now come into effect. Let’s take a look into what this means for filmmakers operating in the US.
In 2016, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began granting waivers that allowed commercial entities to operate drones as part of its 107 rules.
This helped take drones from being manufactured purely as toys or hobbies through to breaking into the mainstream across a broad range of commercial applications. The rule also helped boost the drone market: according to Business Insider, since 2016 the annual sales of drones increased from $8.5 billion to an expected $12 billion in 2021.
Just before Christmas last year though, the FAA announced what proved to be a pretty unpopular update to its 107 rules for commercial drone pilots – its biggest set of changes yet. These new rules have come into effect as of yesterday. (To all filmmakers using drones in the EU, take a look at the new rules here!)
The most controversial of the new rules is the “remote identification rule”. This stipulates that within 18 months, manufacturers will need to update all new mass-produced drones with a “digital license plate” so that the FAA and law enforcement can track all drones in US skies.
Luckily, since December the FAA has decided to remove all transmission requirements other than (local) broadcast-only, specifically internet / network-based transmission, from the final rule. That means that now, identification can be broadcast over short-range Bluetooth or Wi-Fi rather than needing an internet connection.
As a filmmaker, these new regulations have stipulated that by 2023, you’ll need to update all your drones to new models or retrofit old drones with remote ID technology if they’re flying on US soil. Otherwise, you risk flying illegally. The FAA and law enforcement will be able to see your broadcast identification number that they can cross-reference with your registration number, speed, and altitude.
There are some exceptions – if your drone weighs under 0.25kg or 0.55 lbs (e.g., the DJI Mini 2) and you’re using it purely for fun, it could be registered as a recreational drone and doesn’t have to comply with this new regulation.
(Note: If your film is non-commercial that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will fall under recreational use. On FAA’s website, they stipulate that if you are doing non-profit or educational work, you’d be considered a pilot who flies under the Part 107 rules. To figure out where you stand, try using the FAA tool here.)
You can also still fly your drone without remote ID tech, but you’ll be limited to what the FAA is calling its “FAA-recognized identification areas”.
The remote identification rule isn’t the only new regulation. There are also other changes that mean that with the right license, you’ll be able to fly at night and over people, depending on the level of risk your drone carries.
You will also have to complete recurrent online training to fly a drone under Part 107, and have your remote pilot certificate and identification in your physical possession when flying.
Header image credit: Andrew Collings.