image courtesy of The Boeing Company

This issue is dedicated to the men and women of
The Boeing Company. I had the privilege of spending enough years among you to know how much
this hurts.

Hi all –

image courtesy of The Boeing Company

Remember the picture? What a difference a day makes…

Airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly. Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT. I see it all the time in many products. Always seeking to go one unnecessary step further, when often old and simpler is
far better.

I have a lot on the FAA, the AfterMAX, Acting Administrator Dan Elwell’s role in it all, a big idea on The Hill, More NPRM, Remote ID, Autonomy, Mil Spec, STEM and a new guest post from Travis Moran, Deconstructing Mr. Elwell which looks at the FAA’s latest response to the CUAS conundrum.


image courtesy of Pixabay

Quite the headline from Mark McKinnon writing in Plane-ly Spoken, UAS: The FAA Tightens the Screws.

UAS operators will be facing greater oversight and inspections from local Flight Standards District Offices (FSDO) under a new National Policy recently issued by the FAA. The document requires all FSDOs to immediately update their 2019 National Work Program Guidelines to include new Required Surveillance
Work Activities.

As for the why – no real surprise:

The analysis indicates UAS do pose potential risks to air transportation due to UAS sightings in communities bordering airport approach and departure paths. Additional potential risks were identified from noncompliant operations that would require local analysis to target, and noncompliant operators also pose potential risk to firefighting, law enforcement, and emergency response efforts. In consideration of these potential risks, specific conditions and targeting mechanisms were determined to be the best risk-based approach to expanding UAS surveillance opportunities as part of a broader UAS oversight strategy.

The recent guest post by Travis Fox, “Ramp Checks” and Best Practices: Notes from the Drone Journalism Leadership Summit offers a good idea of what operators can expect. And here is a look at the reactions – mostly positive – on the Facebook UAV Legal News Forum. Almost no reaction from the Commercial sUAS Remote Pilots.


787 MAX Global Customers That Have Taken Delivery – courtesy the Boeing Company

The President may be a Luddite, but he is also a master politician. In some shape or form, I am sure that Kenny Roger’s words were echoing in his head, “You’ve got to know when to fold them…”

“We didn’t have to make this decision today. We could have delayed it. We maybe didn’t have to make it at all. But I felt it was important both psychologically and in a lot of other ways…” 

To his credit, he added “Boeing is an incredible company. They are working very, very hard right now and hopefully they’ll quickly come up with an answer.”

I bring this up, because as the sUAS industry begins to grapple with the issue of certification – which is central to both the NPRM and the ANPRM – there is much to be learned.

Now that what in NPRM parlance is a ‘safety defect’ has been identified, how do you unground the entire fleet?

40+ countries got out in front of the FAA (who they traditionally follow) which raises the question of what proof – and perhaps assurances – each government will require in order to release their fleets.

I doubt a presidential pardon will do the trick.

Complicating things, Ethiopia got persnickety and sent the black box to France for analysis, despite requests to send it to London or directly to the NTSB. Apparently as of Friday morning the box still hasn’t been downloaded. Obviously this will delay Boeing and the NTSB getting access.(Note to Boeing – make like Tesla and stream every bit of data back to the mothership.)

Friday Morning Transportation reported on another potential source of
delay, Congress.

STANDING BY FAA: FAA officials briefed members of the House Transportation Committee on the agency’s decision to ground Boeing 737 MAX jets, appearing to settle at least some of their nerves. But the manufacturer will still have to answer inevitable questions about how the planes were certified as safe to fly with a system flaw that may have contributed to the deaths of nearly 350 people.

Certification a big question mark: One of the biggest worries for lawmakers now is a more far-reaching question about whether the FAA’s certification process was adequate for the plane. 

Training standards a target too: Several lawmakers, chiefly Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO), the top Republican on House Transportation, have raised concerns about pilot training beyond the U.S. borders. 

GROUNDING THROUGH APRIL: Lawmakers emerged from the briefing saying the fleet could be grounded through April at least, while Boeing works on completing a software patch that has to be propagated through the fleet, and then pilots trained on the changes.

Meanwhile, the meter is running. A feeding frenzy is underway about who is going to sue Boeing for how much. Beyond the passenger claims, lost revenue is a favorite, as are lease payments for planes that can’t fly. Then there is the question of how many orders might be canceled. cuts to the tort with Boeing Expected to Face Legal Troubles Over 737 Max 8.

One thing I found interesting, though now dated, is this article from Karen Walker writing in Air Transport World, MAX Crash Divides US From Rest of World on Aviation Safety Calls. Among other things she considers the impact of social media.

…The MAX story is running away from the FAA and, for that matter, Boeing and US airline operators.

Walker points to a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation that faced the FAA noting that:

…If, however, early data enables investigators to at least rule out any connections, then all those who grounded the MAX can put it back into service with likely no public backlash. People will simply say, “my country/my regulatory authority/my airline took the safest course.”

Which isn’t true based on known facts, but it’s emotionally persuasive in an internet- and social media-connected world.

This is very much like Gatwick. And it is a preview of what is going to happen if/when a drone is accused of causing a serious accident.


Notwithstanding the fact that he was eventually preempted by his boss, the man in the hot left seat, Acting Administrator Dan Elwell made his second tough call in as many weeks.

“We take actions based on findings, on data, on risk assessment, and since this accident occurred we were resolute in our position that we would not take action until we had data to support taking action,” he said. “That data coalesced today and we made the call.”

The first call in case you missed it, was when he said that the FAA wanted no part of sUAS interdiction. As Morning Transportation reported:

The acting FAA administrator said he would oppose giving his agency the ability to intercept drones. “There have been proposals in the past and discussions about the FAA being responsible not only for detection of drones but mitigating drones around airports,” Elwell said. 

“And I will tell you, as long as I’m working at the FAA, I’m frankly gonna fight to not have FAA take things out of the sky.”

Dronin’ On contributor Travis Moran has written a provocative guest post exploring the decision called Deconstructing Mr. Elwell.

To be sure the FAA does civil enforcement in the form of inspections, fines and revoking licenses, but that is very different from questions of criminal intent. 

Intent is the dirtiest of all of the problems associated with CUAS. For more on this, please see my post, The Counter Drone Conundrum.

There is also the problem posed by SEC44810. Airport Safety and Airspace Hazard Mitigation and Enforcement which forbids delegation to any other entity.

Clearly Mr. Elwell is a man with stones, principles and common sense. He is the kind of leader we need in Washington D.C. As his reward for doing the right thing, this week Morning Transportation ran:

FAA NOM COMING SOON: Former Delta Air Lines executive Steve Dickson is in line to be tapped by President Trump to lead the FAA, with an announcement expected soon.  

Dickson, a former fighter pilot and Air Force officer, left Delta last fall after 27 years at the company. When President Trump and then-House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster were pushing to separate air traffic control from the FAA last year, Dickson said that he thought the system could be improved, but isn’t broken and that FAA should be kept together as an entity.

Wonder if now that he has gotten a look at the working conditions, Mr. Dickson
will bail?


Ms. Titus (D-NV) at House Hearing Looking Forward: Aviation 2050
screen grab from House hearing broadcast – click to view

I tuned in to the House hearing, Looking Forward: Aviation 2050. The FAA was conspicuous by its absence. The UAS contingent was represented by Precision Hawk SVP Diana Cooper who spent her time talking about the need for Remote ID. Mostly it was about other stuff – UAM, Space, being a pilot.

The star of the two hour plus hearing was Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) Her segment starts at 1:53:30. She asks some pretty insightful questions. The most visionary one was when she said that she understood about UTM but was wondering what advice the panel could offer:

Some of the commercial users like the utility companies who have rights of way on the ground, would also like to have rights of way in the air… Is there any possibility that working with the Testing Centers we might develop some kind of airways that are tied to other infrastructure projects where they might have right of way? 

I won’t leave you in suspense – it was a great observation by someone who clearly understands the opportunity for her constituents. Unfortunately it was a clean whiff by the entire group. I am not sure that anyone even got the concept – that there are hundreds of thousands of miles of easements and right of ways that are exactly where companies need to do their inspections. It’s a really big idea.


screen grab from NUAIR website – click to view

Getting some good feedback on my comments about the Operations Over People aspect of the NPRM in last weeks NRPT issue. Monday I posted my comment to the Federal Register, you can read it here. Please feel free to copy and paste if it will help you get off the dime. As of this morning (Saturday) there are 30 days left
to comment.

I was particularly delighted to find this post by reader NUAIR CTO Andy Thurling, FAA’s NPRM for Operations Over People Further Validates Need for Third Party Performance Verification of UAS. This is the first really deep dive I have seen into how this is likely to evolve. I am running a good chunk of it because I want to introduce you to some of the tools that are available to be used.

This first point is huge – why I may have even said something like it.

In determining the overall level of risk for flights over people, the totality of the circumstances should be considered, as opposed to a kinetic-energy only based risk analysis.

The totality of the circumstances includes:

  • An operator’s safe history of operations,
  • Enhanced pilot training and currency requirements such as the requirements of ASTM F3266 – 18, Standard Guide for Training for Remote Pilot in Command of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Endorsement, or the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) Trusted Operator Program,
  • A detailed Concept of Operations (CONOPS),
  • sUA Design for safety and including Risk Mitigation Devices, and
  • An Operational Risk Assessment (ORA) such as ASTM F3178 − 16.

The kinetic energy limits in the NPRM are just so low that few UAS of any commercial merit at all will be able to meet Cat 2/3 “out of the box”, even with a perfect PRS. This puts the onus squarely back on the FAA to approve waivers based on an ORA using relevant data from analysis and testing.

For NUAIR, this validates our efforts to build our third-party performance verification capability – NUSTAR

Please read the article to learn more about NUSTAR – think of it as a UAS specific variant on UL certification. It will play a key role as both manufacturers and the FAA struggle with making and evaluating each safety case.


cover of white paper Remote ID & Commercial Drones
cover – click to view

Kittyhawk has just published a new white paper, Remote ID & Commercial Drones – Enabling Identification and Transparency in the National Airspace. This is a thoughtful presentation with an all star line-up of third-party testimonials to add credibility. It does a good job presenting the benefits side of the story.

  1. Advanced operations without special authorizations
  2. Increased public trust
  3. Data to inform better policy-making
  4. Operator accountability and compliance
  5. Avoiding over-regulation
screen grab from Twitter account

The commercial drone industry and modelers can coexist — even inside one person. – Josh Ziering

I thought that whitepaper fell short in one critical area which was a discussion of the need for Remote ID to be applied to recreational fliers. It’s not a knock, I know that this is something that Josh is very aware of – he is an avid modeler. But it is very much part of the problem.

When I posted the whitepaper on LinkedIn, I noted that it had to apply to recreational fliers. Aaron Shell at Hobby King commented:

Heavy-handed treatment of safe operators who have one of the longest and safest track records in the NAS in the name of prioritizing commercial UAS is unfair, disrespectful, and dirty. It is a slap in the face to the industry that nurtured UAS from their infancy. Would you consider publishing a counter point white paper? All respectfully written of course, I intend to stand up for my position and do it in a respectful manner.

I invited Aaron to get in touch and I will certainly share his guest post. I said to him what I have said for a long time… It is extremely unfortunate that the AMA and the FAA conflated sUAS and RC in 2012. They are two completely different things that grow farther apart every day.

This will be an extremely hot issue for a long time, so it’s not surprising to see that it has surfaced in the UK.


sUAS News reports New UK Drones Law Punishes British Model Flying Community

A new set of regulations intended to tighten rules on drone operators is in danger of having a disproportionately negative effect on the model flying community…

“We are already hearing reports that some airfields are reluctant to renew permissions due to a perceived increase in liability – this represents a real threat to the model flying community which has established an excellent safety record over almost 100 years.”


click to go to the article

Another paper from the prolific crew at, Tech Talk: Untangling The 5 Levels of Drone Autonomy.

The best way to understand the autonomy of drones is as a spectrum. If autonomy is a measure of independence from external influence and a level of self-governing, then different platforms can be autonomous but on a different point in the autonomy spectrum. 

According to this architecture, we are at Level 3 “Conditional Automation.” Here I am thinking about Airobotics and the recently awarded Flirtey BVLOS waiver – both of which require remote pilots to monitor the flight. So I am inclined to disagree with the description “Sense & Avoid” since this is a pretty specific piece of technology that has yet to be approved for any sUAS operations.

Going to be interesting to see if the AfterMAX fallout puts a damper on things autonomous even though that was not the technology used.


artists concept for Loyal Wingman – courtesy of The Boeing Company

As always, interesting new problems and solutions on the military side of the lab.

FCW reports a new opportunity, DOD Looks to Counter Drone Swarm Strikes. See what you think about this specification – I think it is more nuanced then what we would have seen a year ago. Perhaps we are at CUAS 1.5 now:

The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) is looking for a system to aid in detection — using radar, optical or acoustic signals — and identification and mitigation. On the identification front, DIU is looking for a system whose library of unmanned aerial systems will keep pace with what’s available. On mitigation, DIU wants to intercept and disable or destroy threatening drones with directed energy such as a microwave beam or use a spectrum-based solution to jam and disrupt potential threats. In any case, DIU states a preference for “low collateral-damage effectuators” and “systems that support forensics and law enforcement.”

Seems like this spec would work just fine at an airport.

Flight Global offers an update on the Loyal Wingman concept highlighting a newly announced partnership between Boeing and the Australian government:

The vision is to have dozens of cheap and expendable tactical UAVs flying and fighting alongside manned aircraft. The new air force structure is intended to greatly expand the lethality of the US and allied air forces, but at a fraction of the cost of buying and operating expensive fifth-generation stealth aircraft.


STEM program – image courtesy of BP

I was much taken by this story by Rebecca Winthrop in Brookings, I Moved a Drone With My Mind. Soon Your Students Will Too.

The experience was uncannily reminiscent of Jedi training. And like Luke in his first lesson, I was a total flop at first. I thought “up, up, up” as hard as I could and fixed a penetrating stare at the drone but it didn’t move.

“It’s a lot of pressure. Take a deep breath and try again,” said the young man, encouraging me in true Yoda fashion. “UP, UP, UP,” I thought, fixing my mind on the drove. And, amazingly, up it went. Hovering here and there and lurching around a bit, but most certainly skyward. After 30 seconds of amazing drone control, I’d had enough. I stopped repeating “up” but the drone kept flying. “Close your eyes” said the young man. I did and the drone immediately fell to the table.

Thank you for reading and for sharing. Back issues of Dronin’ On are here.


Christopher Korody
Editor and Publisher
follow me @dronewriter



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