By: Jason Arendt

On Monday, February 3, 2020, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced a new plan to authorize unmanned-aircraft delivery systems.[1] This is a departure from the FAA’s previous reluctance to allow commercial autonomous drones.[2]  Typically, companies sought exceptions to existing regulations prohibiting autonomous delivery drones.[3]  The FAA is proposing rules to harmonize the economic benefits from autonomous drone delivery with the safety interests of manned-aircrafts.[4]

In 2013, Amazon publicized their intent to implement a drone delivery service.[5]  The plan was met with scrutiny as real-time tracking of drones was still in its infancy, inciting fears that these drones would interfere with commercial airspace.  Despite the progression of tracking technology, concerns still linger that public airspace will be overwhelmed by autonomous drones.  Seven years after Amazon’s announcement, the FAA is considering new rules to allow autonomous drone delivery.[6]

On January 1, 2020, the FAA enacted a new rule requiring airplanes and helicopters to broadcast their positions by radio using automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast out (ADS-B Out) equipment.[7]  This rule does not require drones to carry ADS-B Out equipment.[8]  Instead, the FAA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking on December 31, 2019, which would require all drones to carry Remote ID, a system which allows for the remote identification of a drone’s identity, location, and altitude.[9]  Two methods of Remote ID have been proposed by the FAA if a drone is flying outside of an FAA-Recognized Identification Area: Broadcast Remote ID and Network Remote ID.[10]  Broadcast Remote ID allows the drone to broadcast information to those requesting Remote ID data, while Network Remote ID sends the data through the controller’s smartphone or other network equipment.[11]  Critics of the proposed rule fear that network ID will allow the public to know the operator’s location whenever their drone is flying.[12]  Critics also take exception to the $2.50 per month cost placed on operators for a Remote ID subscription.[13]  

On February 3, 2020, the FAA issued another notice of proposed rulemaking that, if enacted, would allow some models of autonomous delivery drones.[14]  This proposed rule is the pivotal first step towards a wide-scale adoption of autonomous drone delivery services.[15]  For nearly a decade, Amazon has been pressuring the FAA to loosen restrictions on autonomous drone delivery as they would be a main beneficiary of the changes.[16]  For autonomous drone delivery to be successful, regulators must require ADS-B In equipment to be installed on every drone to receive and react to broadcasts from planes and helicopters.[17]  While requiring every autonomous drone to carry ADS-B Out equipment would congest the airwaves, regulators should be receptive to alternative approaches which provide structured, intelligible data for pilots and air-traffic controllers.[18]  Balancing the economic benefits promised by autonomous drone delivery with the possible threat to the safety of pilots and passengers should be the guiding principle for the FAA’s new regulatory scheme.

The FAA’s decisions to relax autonomous drone delivery regulations and require Remote ID raise several safety and privacy concerns.  The FAA should consider adopting different requirements for commercial drones and personal drones to prevent invasions of personal privacy.  Moving forward, regulators should consider a system which allows pilots to easily track any drone near their airspace.  Autonomous drone delivery has the potential to disrupt the delivery industry but can only succeed with the proper regulatory scheme in place.

[1] See Andy Pasztor, FAA Moves Toward Certifying Specific Drones for Package Deliveries, WSJ (Feb. 3, 2020, 4:21 PM),

[2] See id.

[3] See id (noting the FAA’s apprehensive approach to allowing wide-scale adoption of autonomous drones).

[4] See David Schneider, U.S. Commercial Drone Deliveries Will Finally Be a Thing in 2020, IEEE Spectrum (Jan. 1, 2020, 2:00 PM),

[5] See David Pierce, Delivery Drones Are Coming: Jeff Bezos Promises Half-Hour Shipping With Amazon Prime Air, The Verge (Dec. 1, 2013, 8:10 PM),

[6] See Pasztor, supra note 1.

[7] See Schneider, supra note 4.

[8] See id.

[9] UAS Remote Identification, Federal Aviation Administration, (Jan. 21, 2020, 10:30 AM),; Remote Identification of Unmanned Aircraft Systems, 84 Fed. Reg. 72,438 (Dec. 31, 2019) (to be codified at 14 C.F.R. pt. 107),

[10] See Brian Heater, The FAA proposes remote ID technology for drones, Tech Crunch (Dec. 26, 2019, 2:07 PM),

[11] Remote Identification of Unmanned Aircraft Systems, 84 Fed. Reg. 72,438, 72458 (Dec. 31, 2019) (to be codified at 14 C.F.R. pt. 107),

[12] See Vic Moss, FAA Announces New Remote ID Technology… Why are We Disappointed?, Drone U (Dec. 27, 2019),

[13] See id.

[14] Type Certification of Unmanned Aircraft Systems, 85 Fed Reg. 5905 (Feb. 3, 2020) (to be codified at 14 C.F.R. pt. 21),

[15] See Pasztor, supra note 1.

[16] See id.

[17] See Schneider, supra note 4 (explaining ADS-B In equipment allows drones to receive ADS-B Out signals from other aircraft).

[18] See id.

Share this post