The leadership of the US House Transportation Committee has called on the US Department of Transportation to hasten its regulatory process to require that drones be capable of being identified from the ground.

In a July 2 letter, lawmakers urged Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao “to dedicate the necessary staff and resources for the rapid publication of a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM)” on the so-called Remote ID requirement for small drones.

The FAA recently postponed its planned release of an NPRM from July 21 to September, citing the complexity of drafting such a requirement. The agency has said that publication of a final Remote ID regulation could take up to two years.

“Based upon briefings by the executive branch over the last several years, we believe failure to complete this effort poses serious risks to the National Airspace System, its users and the nation’s most critical and sensitive facilities and assets,” stated the letter, signed by Transportation Committee chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), ranking member Sam Graves (R-Missouri), Aviation Subcommittee chairman Rick Larsen (D-Washington) and ranking member Garret Graves (R-Louisiana).

The lawmakers note that the FAA Extension, Safety and Security Act of 2016 directed the FAA to convene an industry group to develop standards for remotely identifying operators of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) within two years of its enactment, or by July 2018. The FAA formed a UAS Identification and Tracking Aviation Rulemaking Committee that delivered recommendations in September 2017.

Before passage of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 last fall, the FAA and federal security agencies informed Congress that the “main impediment” to drafting a Remote ID rule was a provision of 2012 legislation that prevented the FAA from regulating drones used for recreational purposes.

“Congress appropriately modified the 2012 exemption in last year’s FAA Reauthorization law, believing that would allow the rule to move forward unimpeded,” the lawmakers said. “It is distressing to learn that additional major obstacles remain in fulfilling the statutory mandate, which is nearly a year overdue.”

The delay also is slowing the growth of the commercial UAS industry, the lawmakers argue, because the FAA has said that it will not allow expanded operations such as drone flights beyond the operator’s visual line of sight or over people until it completes the Remote ID requirement.

“[T]he FAA issued an NPRM for the operation of small UAS over people in February 2019, but states unequivocally that it will not finalize that rule until after a remote identification policy is in place due to security concerns resulting from the inability to identify UAS in US airspace,” according to the letter.

US senators also expressed concern over the delayed Remote ID rule during a June 18 hearing. “A final rule is nowhere in sight, notwithstanding the [2016] congressional mandate,” Sen. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) said. “Please explain what is causing the FAA delay on this critical rulemaking,” he asked witness Angela Stubblefield, FAA deputy associate administrator for security and hazardous materials safety.

The FAA has requested its Drone Advisory Committee to help drive voluntary compliance with industry standards for identifying drones while the agency completes the Remote ID draft regulation. It has recommended a specific standard under development by ASTM International Committee F38 on Unmanned Aircraft Systems.

Committee F38 representatives said the UAS Remote ID and Tracking standard—currently designated WK65041—should be completed by late summer. It describes methods for a drone to broadcast its position at close range by Bluetooth or Wi-Fi transmitters, and over a network by cellular communications.

“We’ve already gone through a preliminary ballot [review] at the working group level and will do a ballot to take in the whole committee,” Philip Kenul, F38 Committee chairman, told ATW. “We plan on having [the standard] finished this summer. We accelerated the development effort because we knew this was so important to the regulators and the industry.”

Bill Carey, bill.carey@aviationweek.com