As Marc Andreesen famously noted, “software is eating the world” and its next big meal may well be the US national airspace. That’s in part because the FAA has finalized its rules for the remote identification (RID) of drones. The rules were recently published over the holiday break and you can read the FAA’s executive summary here.

By the time these latest rules become effective in 2023, every drone flight meeting FAA minimums will be required to broadcast the location of both the controller and aircraft. That’s in addition to registering the aircraft with the FAA which is already a requirement along with Part 107 licensing for commercial operations, flying at night and over people. RID completes a foundational set of laws and rules to govern and manage the integration of UAS into the airspace. For this and with an overarching goal and world-class track record of safety, the FAA is to be commended. 

But when they say broadcast, they really mean broadcast. 

While previously indicating it would utilize two methods of relaying identity and location information, broadcast and network, the final rules eliminated the network option. A “cohort” of drone industry companies (which Aloft formerly known as Kittyhawk was not part of) informed the FAA how network or Internet-based RID would and should work. “The cohort identified several challenges with implementing the network requirements,” wrote the FAA. Essentially saying it was too hard. More on this later.

Do You Want Network With That?

In its final rule, the FAA states “The final rule establishes minimum performance requirements describing the desired outcomes, goals, and results for remote identification without establishing a specific means or process.”  They later state that anyone can create a means of compliance. So what some may see as a stringent set of rules, we see as a license to innovate and create advantages for our enterprise customers and recreational pilots alike. 

Our experience as the most frequently used LAANC USS and provider of the B4UFLY app tells us that operators are already expecting and wanting to use the web when they’re using their drone. LAANC is the single most searched feature on our web and app stores. We field daily customer support inquiries where users assume LAANC applies everywhere. “Wish I had LAANC in my neighborhood!” is a common refrain. 

Recently we introduced crowdsourcing to the B4UFLY app in order to enable user reporting of local airspace rules and data enhancements. We’re averaging dozens of submissions per day. One common unintended use of this new feature we’ve seen are users broadcasting their flight path in a way similar to LAANC. But of course, they’re not broadcasting anything. They’re communicating. They’re announcing intent. They’re looking to build trust. And they’re using simple web tools to do it. 

So we will continue to build compliance and airspace solutions that integrate from all data sources be they broadcast, network, programmatic or other while also taking advantage of the enhanced security, flexibility, and simplicity that web tools enable. It’s our belief that integrated solutions will provide drone operations with the redundancy of systems that is the bedrock of traditional aviation theory and practice around the world. 

Solving the Hard Problems of Web-Scale Aviation

What the new Remote ID rules do not solve for are many, but to name a few:

  1. Increased airspace safety.
  2. Improved situational awareness.
  3. Strategic deconfliction and cooperation.
  4. Advancing UAS operational complexity. 
  5. Furthering UAS integration into the NAS.

Our mission at Aloft formerly known as Kittyhawk is to enable flight, and our operational-focused, enterprise-driven UTM capabilities are focused on just that. Our scope is not limited to identification but the functionality that will improve safety, affect situational awareness, and enable advanced use cases from BVLOS to delivery and beyond. By working with our OEM and airspace partners, we’ll continue to build products that make flying more productive, more frequent, and always safe. 

We also welcome more public-private, OEM, and airspace partnerships that move to meaningful data exchange. Compliance that’s measurable incentivizes safety behaviors with superior user experiences that also meet the needs of compliance. We need to make compliance clear but also easy to do among a list of other priorities for pilots. 

These are the hard problems of web-scale and aviation-grade safety feature creation. It’s where we’re focused and what we’re continuing to build.