• The new rule would require drones to broadcast identification and position
  • There are 1.5 million drones registered in the U.S. and 160,000 pilots
  • The public has 60 days to comment on the rule

The Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday proposed requiring drones to be equipped with remote identification technology to keep airways safe.

“Remote ID technologies will enhance safety and security by allowing the FAA, law enforcement and Federal security agencies to identify drones flying in their jurisdiction,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said in a press release.

FAA Administer Steve Dickson said safety “is a joint responsibility between government, pilots, the drone community, the general public.”

The FAA wants private companies to set up tracking systems that would operate much like the air-traffic control system. Such a system is seen as a means of fighting possible terrorism.

The public will have 60 days to comment on the proposed rule, which could be changed and would not take effect for three years after it is finalized.

The FAA has the authority to regulate aviation safety and air traffic control. Through June, the FAA said it had received 8,700 reports of drones flying into prohibited areas or unsafely. The National Transportation Safety Board said there have been at least two collisions between civilian drones and aircraft, one in New York in September 2017 and the other in Idaho in August 2018. A third incident this month in Los Angeles is under investigation.

The FAA said drones are the “fastest-growing segment” of the transportation sector with nearly 1.5 million drones and 160,000 remote pilots registered with the agency, presenting possible hazards to commercial flight. The proposed rule would apply to all drones except those weighing less than a half pound and also includes people operating drones from overseas.

The rule calls for a new tracking network covering anywhere from urban centers to rural areas for everything from toys to larger commercial unmanned aircraft systems, but existing devices would not have to be retrofitted. The proposal also excludes model plane hobbyists.

Currently, hobbyists and commercial drone operators have to keep their craft within 400 feet of the ground and within eyesight. The new rule would allow drones to operate over a wider area.

The Academy of Modern Aeronautics has endorsed the need for tracking certain types of drones, but said the real key to safety is pilot education.

DJI, which bills itself as the world’s leader in civilian drones and aerial imaging technology, already uses the communications link between a drone and its controller to broadcast identification information, as well as basic telemetry. The company warns adding a radio beacon could drive up costs.