Hi all –

It’s summer and that means summer reading lists. A golden conceit concocted to celebrate leisurely vacations in idyllic places, cool refreshing drinks and time to think. Towards that end, here’s a list of free stuff that will inform the discussion in the coming months – and one book that is well worth the money to learn why autonomy may or may not be the way forward.


If there is a through line in this issue, it’s the recent GAO report so why not download it now.


Another tough week in the rabbit patch. While I could not find the reference on the DOT website, Morning Transportation reports:

OVER MY HEAD: DOT in a matter of weeks will roll out new regulations on drone flights over people as well as “the safe and secure operation of drones,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said Wednesday. DOT submitted the two proposed rules to OMB last month.

This news was expected, I reviewed it in the Memorial Day issue. But it’s misleading. There is no roll out. This simply means that the proposed rules may clear OIRA. After any required changes are made, the FAA will then begin the NPRM (public comment) process. IMO, the ANPRM (RIN:2120-AL26) which seeks public comment on Safe and Secure Operations will go first. How Operations Over People ( RIN:2120-AK85) happens without first rewriting 336 remains a mystery.

And 336 won’t be addressed this month, and maybe not next month either. Morning Transportation reports that:

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) told reporters Tuesday that he doesn’t anticipate any movement on an FAA bill this month. More than likely, Republicans and Democrats will try to work out an agreement on when to take up the bill during the July work period — the first week of the month — or at least by August…

Next. You might remember that in H.R. 4, the House version of the FAA Reauthorization, there are two amendments addressing Section 336. The DeFazio amendment, 136 and the Sanford amendment, 160 – my analysis is here.

That is the same Rep. Mark Sanford who got his butt kicked by a tweet storm this week, and will no longer be running for re-election. At the rate things are moving, he may have left the Swamp before this goes to a vote.

Let’s move on to the always fascinating topic of money. The Senate Report on Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, 2019 doles out the cash to the DOT and the FAA.


The Bill runs 163 pages so I created a post with just the five relevant sections:

  • UAS Test Sites
  • UAS Center of Excellence
  • Accelerating UTM

Surprise, surprise UAS IPP came in for a serious spanking:

The Department failed to notify or consult with the Committee prior to initiating its new pilot program and identifying the necessary resources required to operationalize the pilot program.

Very Unfair! Many would argue that the last group that wanted UAS IPP was the FAA. #NIH

The Committee directs the Department to submit a report to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations on expected annual costs… The Department is directed to prioritize all Congressional mandates before diverting resources toward any further expansion of the IPP. 

Gonna be a long three years.

Funding for UTM is in the NASA budget. But that didn’t stop anybody…

The Committee is concerned that FAA is not acting with sufficient urgency to meet its statutory obligations under section 2208 of the FAA Extension, Safety and Security Act of 2016, which required the agency to develop a research plan for UTM development and deployment.  

The Committee directs FAA to submit the research plan no later than December 31, 2018, including milestones for the deployment of a full-scale UTM network.

The notion of a full-scale UTM network tripped my circuit breakers since I was pretty sure we had abandoned that idea.


Here is your next piece of summer reading, the FAA Next Gen Concept of Operations V1.0 for UAS UTM.

UTM utilizes industry’s ability to supply services under FAA’s regulatory authority where these services do not currently exist. It is a community-based traffic management system, where the Operators are responsible for the coordination, execution, and management of operations… 

Based on our conversation at XPONENTIAL, PK and the NASA gang are on schedule for 2019. So color me confused…


The next item for your list, Assessing the Risks of Integrating Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) into the National Airspace System from the National Academies Press unleashed a pent up storm of ‘I told you so’s’. (Here is the press release.) We’ll get to the dust up, but first a little context.

In 2017, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) asked the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to undertake a study of the risks of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) integration into the National Airspace System… The committee sought to provide findings and recommendations that will help the FAA to foster an environment in which UAS can operate safely within the National Airspace System.

 The Committee drew seven ‘key’ conclusions. This one stood out:

Philosophy is not reflected in the practice. FAA executives speak about the importance of taking a performance- and risk-based approach for approval of UAS operations, with streamlining where appropriate. However, the committee heard both from within the FAA and from the UAS industry that such an approach is not being reflected in actual approvals of UAS operations.

The Committee then made the following comment. (All of this is in the Introduction, no need to take time from tidepooling …)

The safety of the National Airspace System has been achieved in large part as a result of the FAA’s risk decision process, which has been characterized by a culture with a near-zero tolerance for risk. Applying this same culture to safety risk management (SRM) processes for UAS, however, has too often resulted in overly conservative risk assessments…

Closely related to this is what the committee considers to be paralysis wherein ever more data are often requested to address every element of uncertainty in a new technology. Flight experience cannot be gained to generate these data due to overconservatism that limits approvals of these flights. Ultimately, the status quo is seen as safe.  

And now the hard part that no one else reported – the first of
11 recommendations: 

Recommendation: The FAA should meet requests for certifications or operations approvals with an initial response of “How can we approve this?” Where the FAA employs internal boards of executives throughout the agency to provide input on decisions, final responsibility and authority and accountability for the decision should rest with the executive overseeing such boards.

A time limit should be placed on responses from each member of the board, and any “No” vote should be accompanied with a clearly articulated rationale and suggestion for how that “No” vote could be made a “Yes.” (Chapter 3)

I can hear the ‘damn rights’ from here.

Mark McKinnon penned one of his signature pieces in Plane-ly Spoken, National Academies of Sciences to FAA: “You’re Being Too Conservative!!” writing that:

According to a new Report from the National Academies of Sciences, the FAA’s commercial drone rules are too strict and the FAA’s zero tolerance policy towards commercial air accidents is stifling development of the industry. This report comes on the heels of the recent 95-page report by the US Government Accountability Office criticizing UAS policy as being based largely on guesswork over the risks to the airspace, rather than hard facts.

While the remedial response to the GAO report is relatively straightforward, the “solution” for the complaints of the National Academy of Sciences is not. 

The Academy believes that the level of risk for UAS operations should be set at the same level as “traveling by car, swimming in the ocean, or walking across
the street.”

Here comes the kicker:

If the public believes that the value of commercial UAS services is worth the same risk of death or injury as getting into a car, then the public will clamor for the focus of the FAA to change. Until that day comes, it is unlikely that the FAA will stop giving the American people and the Congress what they say they want, risk free skies.

Play it forward and it all comes down to making specific use cases that add enough social value to justify the risk…

Flying blood – heck ya. Flying cosmetics – meh. Spies in the sky – no way.

Here’s a smattering of the commentary:

WaPo offered Science Panel Says the FAA Is Too Tough on Drones.

Morning Transportation ran with NAS: Loosen Up on Drones

PetaPixel got out the clickbait with The US Govt Wants the Power to Seize or Destroy ‘Suspicious’ Drones.

DroneLife headlined The NASEM Report: FAA “Overly Stringent” on Drones.

Matthew Kalas, another attorney in Locke Lord’s Litigation Department, says the report “…may be more pabulum than real food for thought.”

“The Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee just a few days prior heard testimony on the pressing need to address the security risks posed by drones, yet the Academies’ assumed as a “guiding principle” to its report that the “introduction of UAS [drones] will not degrade safety or security,”” says Kalas.

“So which is it, unaddressed security risk or minor problem?”

(S. 2836)

Last week, in “Is This Really All,”  I wrote at length about the Senate hearing for the Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018 (S. 2836). In the article I noted that the ACLU had already submitted a letter for the record expressing their opposition.

After the hearing, the Electronic Frontier Foundation joined the fray, asking Does the Government Really Need this Much Power to Deal with an Attack of the Drones?

Many of the bill’s key terms are undefined, but it is clear that it provides extremely broad authority, exempting officials from following procedures that ordinarily govern electronic surveillance and hacking, such as the Wiretap Act, Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Evoking memories of the TFR over Standing Rock, which was specifically intended to keep police operations from the public eye:

If Congress does not define what threats DHS is allowed to target, this authority could be used to prevent journalists and private citizens from capturing footage of government activities or other legitimate news events. Additionally, S. 2836 would allow states to request federal law enforcement support at “mass gatherings,” which could include protests or other First Amendment-protected activities.

The Hill amplified those concerns with a thoughtful editorial, Why Giving the Government Nearly Unchecked Power to Shoot Down Drones in the US Is a
Bad Idea

The proposal, which fails at safeguarding rights or safety, is a recipe for disaster. The Senate should reject it and any efforts to attach this bill to the National Defense Authorization Act. 

Fast forward to this week. The bill passed through Committee Wednesday with a ‘nay” from Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) who cited privacy concerns.

Morning Transportation noted that “The bill did include an amendment sponsored by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) instructing the departments to avoid infringing on private citizens’ privacy and civil rights and also not to interfere with authorized drone flights.”

While last week I focused on the Commercial Drone Alliance’s comments about Remote ID, in their Guiding Principles for Counter-UAS Legislation the Alliance urged that legislation should be narrowly tailored and incorporate data and privacy protections. Perhaps Sen. Carper heard them.

Welund VP and Dronin’ On LE expert Travis Moran wrote in to say “This week’s push-back from privacy organizations is not unexpected. It highlights how difficult crafting a legally viable solution to this problem will be.”  

NUAIR CEO Marke “Hoot” Gibson contributed “…Not so fast. There needs to be an honest and open cost-benefit discussion of what measures may be applied in a reasonable, prioritized fashion…short of bankrupting our nation.”

Be all of that as it may, Chairman Johnson seems hellbent on shoehorning S. 2836  into the ‘must-pass’ 716 billion dollar 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, H.R. 5515 (115) which is getting ready for floor time. Fortunately he is getting some push back – again in Morning Transportation:

Johnson… told reporters he was having productive discussions with other committees… But some chairmen still aren’t sure if they want to provide that “blanket waiver” to DHS and DOJ, making it difficult to reach an agreement.”


The Atlantic summed up the privacy concerns of many in a provocative, well researched piece. Drone Cops Take Flight in Los Angeles: The L.A. County Sheriff has deployed a quadcopter drone for rescue and reconnaissance. But will the public accept that these aerial officers come in peace?

Public unease with law-enforcement drone cameras also arrives, ironically, at the same time as “overwhelming support” for the widespread use of police body cameras. This discrepancy raises the question of who—or what—can film a city’s residents and under what investigative circumstances. As National Review has pointed out, for example, effective controls on police drone technology must include “limiting the scope of police surveillance, the means of police surveillance, the content police may store, and the length of time for which they may store it. Such limits prevent abuse and preserve liberty.” If bodycams promise that a police officer’s account of an event can now be compared to video footage of what happened, why is future drone footage not greeted with the same
evidentiary enthusiasm?

To see how that might play out, April Glaser writing in SLATE took the bull squarely by the horns – The Next Frontier of Police Surveillance Is Drones: A major drone company [DJI] and a major police-camera company [Axon] are teaming up, and the possibilities are frightening.

By combining drone, body-camera, police-car-camera, and closed-circuit-TV footage [into their Evidence.com product] , Axon is clearly hoping to create a central hub for police to cross-reference and access surveillance data—a treasure chest of information that, according to Elizabeth Joh, a law professor at the University of California–Davis who studies civil liberties and police surveillance technology, police departments could find difficult to stop using once they start.


Other countries are moving the ball instead of kicking the can… After a lot of hard work, a set of Pan-EU rules was approved by the European Parliament (MEPS).

On Tuesday, MEPs approved an agreement reached between Council and Parliament negotiators in November 2017 on EU-wide principles for drones and drone operators to ensure a common level of safety and give operators and manufacturers the predictability to develop products and services.

Civil drone technology could account for an estimated 10% of the EU aviation market within the next 10 years (i.e. about €15 billion per year). According to the Commission, the drone industry could create some 150,000 jobs in the EU by 2050.

I admire the approach and the forecast!

Peter van Blyenburgh at RPS Info announced that the African Union has published a new report, Drones on the Horizon Transforming Africa’s Agriculture.


The 44 page report, available in English and in French, provides a contextualized review of drones as a vital precision agriculture-enabling technology and its range of relevant uses for providing detailed and on-demand data in order to enhance decision-making by farmers.

Also in Africa, VOA News reports that Award-Winning Smart Drones to Take on Illegal Fishing courtesy of a grant from National Geographic. 

“The aircraft can cover a range of up to 700 km (435 miles) and use artificial intelligence (AI) technology to drive them in search of fishing vessels,” said ATLAN Space’s founder, Badr Idrissi.

Two thumbs up: Not only is it important, it’s very cool.

From the Japan Times. Law on Drone Assistants to Be Scrapped in Favor of Remote Observation:

 “A law requiring that a safety assistant be present during long-distance commercial drone operations will be scrapped, according to new rules announced Thursday by the transport and industry ministries. A drone that is out of sight must have a long safety record and stay below an altitude of 150 meters.”



In the XPONENTIAL issue I mentioned that Skyward CEO Mariah Scott had previewed a new market adoption survey. The State of Drones in Big Business: How Companies with $50M+ in Revenue are Using Drones has now been released.

While only 10% of those surveyed have drone programs, they are upbeat about the benefits and planning to increase their investments.


RCRWireless released OPERATORS TAKING FLIGHT: The emerging role of drones in network operations and maintenance. It’s another upbeat take on the future with a slightly different spin:

Now that Federal Aviation Administration regulations are friendly enough for limited line-of-sight commercial uses in the US, drone inspection services are starting to boom. Commercial drone service vendors are forming their own processes and software for precision flying to produce a high-quality product. Certified FAA Part 107 pilots are self-organizing into Uber-like “drone-pilot-for-hire” arrangements. Business is starting to boom.



Monday I head to Houston for the Energy Drone Coalition Summit. The show opens Wednesday. Tuesday afternoon there will be a special Industrial C-UAS & Security Forum moderated by Travis Moran featuring a very senior group including Matthew Barger from DHS.

The Advisory Board designed this panel to meet the specific needs of critical infrastructure owners. It is going to be a small group and a deep dive. There are a few seats left. So, if you are already registered and can arrive mid-day Tuesday, or are in the area and want to participate, please shoot Sean Guerre an email, seang@stonefortgroup.com, and he will hook you up with a free pass. Be sure to tell him I sent you.

And of course, look for the EDC Show Issue next Saturday.


GoFly Prize Unveils 10 Winning Designs in $2M Contest for Personal Air Vehicles. We believe that we are well on our way to making people fly,” said Gwen Lighter, program founder and CEO.


This one you’ll have to buy. But it will save you a ton of time and money. You will learn a great deal about the challenges of creating autonomous systems and the dark nuances of cybersecurity. Paul Scharre put in his time as the DoD analyst responsible for the U.S. policy regarding autonomous weapon systems. Better yet he writes well. And this one is hot off the presses so it is up to date.

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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