We are fast approaching the date when unmanned aircraft flown in the United States will have to be equipped for remote identification.  One of the few exceptions to this requirement applies to UAS operated within FAA-Recognized Identification Areas (FRIA).  The request to establish a FRIA must come from an FAA-recognized “community-based organizations,” such as the Academy of Model Aeronautics, or an educational institution. 

As part of the FRIA approval process, the FAA must determine whether a full-blown Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) must be completed for each site, which can be costly and time-consuming to prepare.  The FAA believes that 2,500 existing sites where UAS are operated by the Academy of Model Aeronautics and other community-based organizations will be designated as FRIAs.  The FAA also assumes that over six hundred new FRIAs will be established by educational institutions over the next 5 years. 

Based on a new draft Programmatic Environmental Analysis (PEA), it appears that the FAA has made a preliminarily determination that FRIAs will not pose a significant impact on the environment.  Based on this finding, the FAA will not require a full EIS as part of the FRIA approval process.  According to the FAA’s announcement:

The FAA intends for this PEA to create efficiencies by establishing a framework that can be used for “tiering,” where appropriate, to project-specific actions that require additional analysis.  As decisions on specific applications are made, to the extent additional National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis is required, environmental review will be conducted to supplement the analysis set forth in this PEA.

Overall, the draft PEA, which is over one hundred pages in length, is very thorough and goes through all of the potential environmental impacts in detail, including air, noise and visual pollution, the impact on plants and wildlife, and compliance with international obligations with regard to migratory birds.  If the draft PEA is formally adopted, it will certainly help streamline the FRIA designation process. 

The draft PEA has been placed on the FAA’s docket, and can be viewed at this LINK.   The FAA is accepting comments on the draft through May 3, 2023.