Hi all –

Dog days. The weekly FAA update, a look at regulation in the UK and Oz, Food for Thought plus Last Call, Coming Attractions and one big Milestone.


Another week, another missed opportunity for the Senate to work through the FAA Reauthorization Bill, S. 1405. Thanks to a friend, I now have the details of the proposed UAS amendments – which have still not been published on Congress.gov.

Three things worth noting, each a cause for concern.

1) There is no 336 amendment. This means that despite the FAA, DHS and DOJ all actively advocating, there is not a single Senator that took the bait; or whose amendment survived. If it is going to happen, a 336 rewrite will be based on the Sanford amendment or the DeFazio in H.R. 4.

I have been writing about this for months beginning with Our Common Cause in February, so I hate to go over this again, but without changes to 336 there is no apparent way to implement universal Remote ID. Which means there is no way to satisfy the security agencies. Which means no extended operations. To prove the point, the proposed flight over people NPRM is now firmly wedged in OIRA where it is likely to remain “pending review” until this is resolved.

2) The Lee amendment. This just showed up and has people up in arms. 

“(c) NONAPPLICATION OF PREEMPTION.—The provisions of section 41713 shall not apply to carriage of property by Operators of small unmanned aircraft systems described in the final rule under subsection (a).”

In a nutshell, When state law and federal law conflict, federal law displaces, or preempts, state law, due to the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution. i.e. Lee proposes that state trump federal. Carriage of property is delivery.

The Small UAV Coalition (whose members include Amazon) argues that:

The amendment would reregulate an industry that has been free from state and local government economic regulation of air carriers since the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978.

If adopted, the amendment would allow thousands of state and local government to impose restrictions on commercial UAS air carrier operations, creating inefficiencies that will stifle innovation and discourage investment and competition. 

If you have an extraordinary memory, you might remember that Sen. Mike Lee (R – UT) was one of three Senators who joined Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) in sponsoring the short lived S. 1272 – Drone Federalism Act of 2017.

Lee wrote an op-ed piece at the time, Drones and Federalism:Why the States Must Lead on Drone Regulation. One thing he got right:

It will take years for this bureaucratic behemoth to pass through all the procedural hoops and hurdles necessary to produce a comprehensive regulatory scheme. The agency itself predicts drones won’t be fully integrated into our nation’s airspace
until 2025.

Beyond bolstering the federalism argument, this amendment is a mystery. There is no question (well there didn’t used to be) of federal jurisdiction over interstate commerce. At best this relates to intrastate commerce and further embroiders the patchwork quilt. Hard to understand what problem(s) this solves, easy to see the problems it creates.

3) S. 2836, aka the DHS bill I reported on in Is This Really All? is on the amendments list. Among other things we can conclude that it did not get into the 2019 NDAA. Together with the House version H.R. 3566 , it seems likely that this will survive conference. Probably not as tightly focused as it should be, and hard to see how it works without Remote ID.

BTW if DOD is on your radar, this article in Breaking Defense will be of interest, What Really Matters In The Defense Authorization Act & What Didn’t Get Done. Interesting to see the role of UAS fell under Misfires – change is hard fellas:

Two themes jumped out: the need to move from manned to unmanned aircraft, and skepticism about the viability of amphibious assaults in a high-threat environment. The former caught the attention of aviators; the latter caught the attention of Marines. There was apparently strong push back from the House and little of this made it into the final bill. 

A nice summary of the state of play here by Miriam McNabb in dronelife.com, It’s Time to Pay Attention: Industry Leaders Comment on FAA
Reauthorization Amendments

It’s bad timing for the drone industry.  With the Department of Homeland Security focused on security issues surrounding drones in an effort to get authorization to detect and disable, the conversation about drones on Capitol Hill lately has been less about economic benefits and more about potential terrorism. 

In addition, as the current administration makes an effort to grant states more power, FAA preemption – the idea that the FAA should have sole regulatory authority over the airspace – is being threatened, another potential barrier to the drone industry.  

Besides Lee’s proposed amendment, for the mother of preemption, see last week’s Bright Line issue which explores the proposed ULC Drone Tort Law.

Mark McKinnon writing in Plane-ly Spoken sums it up as Drones: A Uniformly Bad Law. I particularly like his conclusion (my emphasis):

Turning all transits of an aircraft less than 200’ over a structure into a violation, without any requirement to prove actual harm, is an invitation for chaos.  The NCCUSL claims that treating aerial trespass as per se actionable “will likely not engender a rash of new litigation” because people can be trusted to be reasonable. Given the state of public discourse in the county right now, an assumption that people won’t use the law to harass drone operators or try to strong-arm them with a threat of litigation seems unrealistically optimistic.

Somewhere waiting in the wings but still mostly taboo, Patrick Egan asks, Should Foreign Drones Be Banned?

A ban of drones from overseas would be one surefire way to nip 70-80% of the rogue drone problems right in the bud. Alternatively, maybe as a compromise, the Government should just reclassify any imported toy with more than two propellers and over 250 grams as an aircraft, registering and taxing accordingly. Either of those hypotheticals would undoubtedly translate into a considerable drop in flights in and around airports, prisons, or cartel drug and human smuggling use at
the border.

On the up and away, hats off to the FAA for yet another “waivenar” – my new term for their series of webinars about waivers. (ha!) Coming up August 7 is The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Using real examples, this session reviews what a successful and unsuccessful waiver application looks like.” Owchh!

If you are wondering about the interest and demand for this kind of information, each waivenar, which for nonsensical technical reasons is capped at 1,000 online participants, has sold out. Fortunately, they are being recorded – all the details
are here.

Riding the increasingly popular waiver wave, is an upcoming webinar August 8th by LeClair Ryan, Waivers, Exemptions and Certifications.


The new UK (I mean England, I mean Britain, I mean Great Britain, I don’t know what I mean but I have great respect) laws are now on the books. Commercial Drone Professional covers it in New Drone Laws Come Into Effect Today as Public Demands Safer Flying. Some very interesting canaries in the coal mine that we are likely to hear trill here as well.

New research published today from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) finding that:

  • 77% felt that more drone regulation was needed. This was even echoed by the drone community themselves, with 75% in agreement.
  • 93% of the public and 96% of drone users calling it ‘vital’ that drone flyers adhere to the rules and guidelines of the CAA’s Dronecode.
  • Almost half of drone users (45%) use a drone-related app to help them fly more safely.
  • Of those who don’t use a drone app, 73% said they will in the future while 43% stated that apps such as NATS Drone Assist and Airmap have the benefit of providing drone users with accurate airspace information.

And from Australia, Regulatory Requirements That Impact on the Safe Use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems, Unmanned Aerial Systems and
Associated Systems

An inquiry into current and future regulatory requirements that impact on the safe commercial and recreational use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) and associated systems.

In their press release, the Australian Association for Unmanned Systems (AAUS) commented that:

AAUS remains supportive of the risk-based approach adopted by CASA and CASA’s ongoing efforts to educate operators on how to fly their RPAS legally. AAUS encourages CASA to continue in its efforts to expand and reform applicable safety regulations, as well as its oversight and safety promotion activities. AAUS also acknowledges the need to address the broader issues of privacy and security. Any new regulatory reform should be developed after evidence-based analysis, and not come at the expense of any aviation sector.

AAUS is inviting members to respond in detail. This is an interesting tactic that could be more effectively used in the US – AMA is already good at this.


Based on all of the positive feedback to the June Summer Reading issue, I’ve put together another group of articles that merit your attention.

This two-part interview with Colin Guinn in Commercial UAV News covers a lot of ground. If you don’t know the backstory, Colin was a VP at DJI in the early years. After a much-publicized falling out he joined 3DR. After that, he helped to found Hangar and most recently Guinn Partners, a marketing agency. Part 1 is What’s the New Narrative for the Drone Industry?

Here is a provocative statement that I hope you recognize the truth of:

No VC’s want to invest in hardware companies, because they all think it’s already commoditized, because drones just work now, so they’re cheap. They want to say that hardware is easy and that there’s no innovation left to be done there.

The reality though, is that there’s one company that has figured out drone hardware, and that’s a big part of the reason they are now a $20 billion dollar company. Sure, there’s an entire segment of the drone hardware market that has been defined, but there are and will be opportunities elsewhere. The hardware that’s being made today looks very different than the hardware that’s going to be made two years from now when we can fly BVLOS.

There’s a whole new wave of hardware that will need to be created to deliver packages and perform a variety of physical tasks. Very little of that has been developed yet.

This is exactly what I mean when I say that those whose vision is based on four-pound white plastic units are totally missing the point – and the future.

Part 2 explores Are Autonomous BVLOS Drone Flights the Tipping Point for the Industry? It’s hardly a unique insight but it is still a compelling
economic argument:

If you think about it, a drone is just a Roomba …Imagine if every time someone used a Roomba, they had to stand in the room and watch it run, ready to stop it or trouble-shoot if it got stuck. No one would use them, because then you’d just use a vacuum. As long as we have to pay operators to do the equivalent of vacuum the floor, then there’s only going to be a certain part of the market where the value that’s derived from that info and insight justifies that cost.

For the most part, those are the verticals that are already adopting. Guinn also offers a subtle insight which explains why the future of the consumer and commercial markets will continue to diverge.

In the consumer drone industry, flying the drone is the meat. Someone flies their drones and takes some pictures or video, and that’s the end of it. It’s all they want to do… Commercial users don’t care about the drone… They want to know whether they can better their margins by 2% to offer a better price and stay competitive with their bid. It has nothing to do with the drone or even the raw data.

This is a big reason that it is increasingly difficult for the regulators to manage sUAS. Or if you want to be less charitable, why the current model has
already failed.

Drone Development Should Focus on Social Good First, Says UK Report in TechCrunch reports on the early results from an initiative similar to UAS IPP which launched in five cities December 2017. This is an exceptional piece of work – highly recommended. The full report is here.

Of interest:

Nesta, the innovation-focused charity behind the project and the report, wants the UK to become a global leader in shaping drone systems that place people’s needs first, and writes in the report that: “Cities must shape the future of drones: Drones must not shape the future of cities.”

I also liked:

“In complex environments, flight beyond the operator’s visual line of sight, autonomy and precision flight are key, as is the development of an unmanned traffic management (UTM) system to safely manage airspace. In isolation these are close to being solved — but making these work at large scale in a complex urban environment is not.”

This article in Verdigris, a UK blog, Unmanned Systems – A Role, not a Revolution covers a lot of ground. There is no information about the author, but he is clearly knowledgeable about military maritime issues and is thinking strategically. Much of it translates:

Despite the impressive range of projects and trials that are out there, I sense there is too much time being spent staring into the crystal ball, forever looking to the next evolution of technology for answers instead of exploiting what we have today. 

My view is that we should be normalising unmanned system operations now, even with less capable systems, so that we can start to generate the experience in our people, and therefore the ideas, that will evolve the concept far faster than industry navel-gazing.

And towards the end:

If there is a theme to all of my rambling, it is that unmanned systems should be viewed as a force multiplier not a revolutionary new capability.

Here is another area that will have considerable impact. People are waking up and realizing just how long in the tooth the global positioning system (GPS) is. Designed in the ‘70’s, it is becoming more and more vulnerable.

Bloomberg Businessweek headlined ‘The World Economy Runs on GPS. It Needs a Backup Plan.

The small satellite network, which keeps global computer systems from freaking out, is shockingly vulnerable to all kinds of interference.

Closer to home, Inside GNSS reports Deadline Near: DHS Program to Assess GPS Jamming, Spoofing Resilience

“What we’re looking at is what kind of technology is available to protect our aircraft from bad guys buying illegal jammers or spoofers to keep the bad guys’ location hidden from us or allowing them to take over an aircraft,” said Tim Bennett, program manager for air-based technologies for the Security Science and Technology division of DHS.

Rest assured that what is deemed bad or unreliable for DHS sUAS, will also be deemed bad for commercial sUAS C2.

If your job entails getting things off the ground, Bloomberg Businessweek offers, SpaceX’s Secret Weapon Is Gwynne Shotwell. She launches spaceships, sells rockets, and deals with Elon Musk.

Nice segue here courtesy of WaPo, NASA Unveils the Astronauts Who Will Relaunch Human Space Flights From U.S Soil. It’s been seven years, now Boeing and SpaceX will lift us up. Just revisiting Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff – still a great read.

II liked this very concise piece on firefighting, Firefighting Drones Aim to Fly Higher, Help Save Lives in Robotics Business Review.

For more, the always thoughtful Seth Godin offers up a new list of Books Worth Reading. You’ll also enjoy his recent short post, Our Engineering Ratchet.


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Colin Snow asked me to strongly encourage you to please participate in the third annual Drone Market Sector Research study which closes Wednesday, August 9th. The industry needs your data. Please click the link and do it before you honey do. No shame but you know you will forget… again.


I will not the last person to say it – three UAS conferences in five weeks?

IDE is back after canceling 2017 with Drones, Security and Profitability held in conjunction with the Mobile World Congress Americas in LA, September 12-14. Mobile is a big deal conference with about 1,000 exhibitors and 25,000 plus attendees. It’s a spin-off of Mobile World Congress which attracts some 100,000 to Barcelona every year.

IDE SVP Mike Rosenberg is offering up some passes. “The Silver Pass is $300 which includes the IDE conference, related conferences and visiting the exhibits and other networking opportunities.” Definitely worth considering if you are in the telecom space or dronin’ in SoCal. Drop me a line and I will be happy to hook
you up.


Those of you who know me, know that Apple (back then it was Apple Computer) was my client from 1980-1992. During the early years, I worked closely with Steve Jobs, John Sculley“Coach” Bill Campbell and many others to launch the Lisa and Macintosh. So I had a little lump in my throat when Apple crossed the trillion
dollar mark.

Perhaps not coincidentally, WSJ ran a story ($) The Mobile Industry’s Never Seen Anything Like This’: An Interview With Steve Jobs at the App Store’s Launch – turns out it was ‘only’ ten years ago.

Developers have earned more than $100 billion through the store.

Hard to imagine the world without it. Think about how it has influenced our own industry with companies like Precision Hawk and DroneDeploy creating their own app stores while the FAA, AirMap, Kittyhawk and many others create products to distribute through the Apple and Android stores. There is a good exploration of the topic on the Apple Newsroom here. And a fun Apple timeline here.

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


Christopher Korody
Editor and Publisher
follow me @dronewriter

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