The Working Hard issue of Dronin' On 09.16.17
Hurricane Harvey Day 5 – photo J. Daniel Escareño

Hi all –

I think we can all breathe a little easier, though no one in the southeast or the Caribbean is anywhere near out of the woods or the water. At least they have drones to help. Props to everyone who is doing the hard work on the ground with no water, no AC and no A/C. Lots of other folks working hard as well to move the industry forward.


Tired of the weather? Tune in to the Hill where Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) started off the week explaining to Morning Transport (MT) that HR 2997 will not be on the floor this week becauseHurricanes Irma and Harvey kind of blew us off schedule, so to speak.” Talk about air cover.

Thursday morning MT reported that:

The Trump administration is expecting the House to vote on Rep. Bill Shuster‘s FAA bill in the early weeks of October. Infrastructure policy adviser DJ Gribbin told attendees of an Airlines for America event Wednesday that he spoke with Speaker Paul Ryan ‘s office the previous night, “and it looks like the vote count in the House is looking very, very good.”

Shuster also said that the House will pass an extension when lawmakers return from next week’s break (Gone again… really?). But here is the entertaining part.

A pair of GOP lawmakers say they and some allies plan to oppose a short-term extension, arguing that it would just buy time for their adversaries who want to split air traffic control away from the FAA. “Why rejuvenate a zombie so it can come back and bite you?”

Stay tuned for the next episode of Zombies In The NAS.

For an extra dollop of frisson, consider this cautionary tale from Congress, Navy Share Blame For Fatal Collisions At Sea. The moral of the story is all too familiar:

Congress’s repeated budget malpractice and the Navy’s flawed policies combined to cause the accidents that killed 17 sailors, the Navy and the GAO say. Legislative dysfunction means budget cuts, caps, and delays have chronically shortchanged training and maintenance across the fleet, 

Want to know what people really think? ‘So Fricking Stupid’: Adam Smith Predicts Year-Long CR

The congressional budget process is headed for “a complete meltdown” in December, and the most likely outcome is a year-long Continuing Resolution…said a visibly frustrated Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA). A full-year CR would be “borderline legislative malpractice, particularly for the Department of Defense.”

OK – send in the clowns – or better yet, the adults.


As part of a larger effort to develop a common framework for flying and tracking UAVs, the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) will propose the establishment of a global registration system for all UAVs at the upcoming DRONE ENABLE Unmanned Aircraft Systems Symposium in Montreal.

According to ICAO’s Stephen Creamer, one group that has ample incentive to support this are the aircraft manufacturers. He told Reuters that:

“They (drone makers) are worried that Europe might create one set of standards, United States might do a second and China might do a third. And they’ve got to build a drone differently in these different environments.”

It’s easy to see why a global standard is a best-case scenario for manufacturers – the cost of building and (eventually) certifying country specific variants could quickly become prohibitive. Which of course would be passed on to the customer – so you might like the idea too.


In June, The Commercial Drone Alliance and Hogan Lovells hosted a Domestic Drone Security Summit which brought together a wide range of stakeholders from government, law enforcement and industry to explore solutions for this
pressing issue.

Gretchen West, the Co-Executive Director of the Alliance explained that the exclusive, off-the-record conclave: “…Allowed industry to engage with the government to discuss solutions and find areas for mutual collaboration.”

Based on these conversations and more, the Commercial Drone Alliance last week released their Guiding Principles for the Commercial Drone Industry
Security Issues

There are four principles:

  1. Any Drone Security Legislation Must be Narrowly Tailored
  2. Enable Technology Solutions to Policy Problems:
  3. Require Hobbyists to Register Their Drones.
  4. Establishment of Remote UAS ID and Tracking Requirement.

With the Unmanned Aircraft Systems–Identification and Tracking (UAS-ID) ARC due to wrap up its work, I found #4 to be particularly timely – no doubt it will also be the most controversial.

Recognizing the pace of technology, the recommendation is for performance-based standards that provide data across the multiple channels used by various stakeholders – i.e. no one size fits all will work. It also discusses how to balance the need to know, with the need for privacy.

The big new idea is Shared Responsibility for Operators and Manufacturers. It squarely (finally) recommends putting the burden on the manufacturers not just to equip all new aircraft with the necessary technology, but also to provide a way for the installed base to retrofit existing units.

In my personal opinion – which to be clear does not reflect the view of the Alliance or the ARC – two things should happen. First, pilot licenses should be tied to electronic identification. This is driven by the idea that we are more interested in who is flying (which we can’t see) than what is flying (which we can at least theoretically see).

Secondly, completing the electronic identification process should be baked in to the software so that a new drone cannot operate until the unit is registered and its squawk is verified. I recognize that this idea is sure to be unpopular – however, it boils down to a simple question – how serious are you about security?

In 2015, under considerable pressure from committee members the FAA missed a golden opportunity when they let the retailers and manufacturers off the hook. At the time the issue was safety, today it is safety and security. Either way, the result is that there are millions of undocumented sUAS – not the comparative handful registered for commercial use. Here’s another chance to get it right.

As for what that could have (and still could) look like, consider this story. China’s Tighter Drone Rules Send New Pilots Flocking to School.

A buzz fills the sky above a flight base in northern Beijing, as pilots practise take-offs and landings ahead of tests to qualify for a license – to fly drones.

Drone enthusiasts in China, the world’s top maker of consumer unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are scrambling for licenses after the government adopted strict rules this year to tackle incidents of drones straying into aircraft flight paths.


If you’re not feeling a particular sense of urgency, take a look around the world.

The UK’s iNews headline screams Drone Terror Attack by Jihadists in Britain Is ‘Only a Matter of Time’, Security Sources Warn. 

“Security sources have said that the jihadist group [ISIS] is actively seeking to export [drone] bombing expertise honed during recent battles in Syria and Iraq to followers based in Europe. Potential targets include VIPs, passenger aircraft and crowds gathered for sporting or outdoor music events.

The jihadists’ online material now regularly exhorts sympathisers to use the devices… A successful atrocity using a drone against countries including the UK is one of the terror group’s highest priorities.”

From NDTV India comes ‘Rogue’ UAVs Including Drones Could Be Shot Down In Proposed Policy.

A draft policy on operating low-flying, pilot-less objects will come up soon to deal with elements which could carry out terror attacks using drones…a home ministry official said.”

I am always amazed to see who is paying attention to this issue. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists asks Militant Groups Have Drones. Now What?

To be clear, commercial drones and IEDs are not the same—one is a platform and the other is a munition, and drones rely more on repurposing technology available to the retail market. Both technologies are inexpensive… Placing the onus on the defender to adapt to the various configurations militant groups might construct.

This is a succinct description of the disruption that has the US military  and all of NATO scrambling…


Picking up on the themes I reported from InterDrone, AerospaceDaily has an in-depth article on GE Startup Avitas Deploys AI for Drone Inspections. It is a full NVIDIA solution. And they are breaking some new ground.

Avitas Systems is using AI to plan flightpaths for drones that optimize the collection of data at points of interest. AI is then also used to layer the images collected on a 3D model of the asset and perform automatic defect recognition. 

Information from inspections then goes into a central database, where it is fused with data from past inspections, maintenance histories and other operational information. A different set of AI algorithms assesses the riskiness of an asset and plans future inspections based on that risk.

Here’s the punch line – they will be able to do all this while reducing costs by 25%.

Worth noting that the brand-new Apple X is also using AI together with edge processing to provide faster results and improved security. The Verge describes it as Artificial Intelligence in Your Hand, Not in the Cloud.

DefenseNews reports US Air Force’s Next Drone to Be Driven by Data “[There will be] less emphasis on the platform and sensors and more attention to the data a UAV collects and how it is analyzed and dispersed.”

UK tech pub TheRegister has a fresh take on delivery, The Bigger the Drone, the Bigger the Impact. The subhead is “Fast book delivery is a first world problem, but cargo-carriers might just slow down the growth of cities.” Their premise is fascinating and probably spot on.

We’re accelerating into a ‘cargo culture’… For everyone living at the extremes of distance or accessibility. Autonomous drones will transform the 21st century almost as comprehensively as automobiles did in the last.

Love the return of ‘cargo culture’ in this context. 

McKinsey offers up their own vision of change in Urban Commercial Transport and the Future of Mobility. 

Order grouping, route optimization, and night deliveries, could be implemented more or less immediately. Others, such as the use of droids, robots, and autonomous ground vehicles (AGVs), are realistic, but likely years away from large-scale deployment. looks at a different but fast-growing application area, Risk Managers Cautious When It Comes to Use of Drones. It tells two tales though I think that Harvey and Irma are about to change these results:

  • 61 percent of risk managers are concerned about the potential for invasion of privacy. 
  • 62 percent expect commercial drone usage to become common practice for businesses in less than five years – a significant increase from the 37 percent who believed this in 2015.

There is an inspiring article from the UN News Centre, Does Drone Technology Hold Promise for the UN? It looks at Malawi, Vanuatu, UNICEF, refugees and mosquito abatement among other things.

Nice feel good story in WIRED, Above Devastated Houston, Armies of Drones Prove Their Worth.

Bloomberg offers up the flip side and while it is perhaps out of proportion, this kind of headline really hurts, Flying Rubber Neckers Disrupt Drone Work in Texas Recovery. They describe the response as a seminal moment for the
drone industry.

The hurricanes provided an early win for Airbus Aerial. CEO Jesse Kallman explains that “Providing a fusion of drones, manned aircraft and satellite surveillance data we did flood-modeling analysis and overlaid that with where policy holders were.”

Solid interview with Skyward’s Jonathan Evans in Rotor & Wing who offers up a great analogy:

“Today, I think we’re living in a drone market that looks a lot like that first wave of the internet on 14.4k modems… You could see a burgeoning possibility, a very clear potential for the market to follow; but there was a technological threshold that had to be reached — and that was broadband. That’s about where we are with
the airspace.”


Congratulations to Mark Dombroff, Mark McKinnon and team who have moved their aviation practice to LeClairRyan. Hopefully they will continue to pen the always provocative Plane-ly Spoken and conduct their insider seminars.

Drone World Expo (DWE) is coming up fast. Two panels will focus on security. Counter Measures for Unmanned Aircraft will be moderated by Marke “Hoot” Gibson who among many other things heads up CUAS for the FAA, and Remote Identification for Unmanned Aircraft will be moderated by Lisa Ellman, the Co-Executive Director of Commercial Drone Alliance who is also on the UAS ID ARC.

DWE Event Director Joelle Coretti worked in near real time to bring together an insiders view of the Drone Response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. I am delighted to be moderating such a distinguished panel!

As Gretchen and Lisa so ably demonstrated with the Domestic Drone Security Summit, good things happen when groups of people come together to ensure that new policies reflect the concerns of all stakeholders. So I am happy to support the recently announced Mobility Unmanned Conference as a media partner. It is:

The first conference dedicated solely to providing key stakeholders the unique opportunity to explore cutting-edge autonomous technology and examine the emerging regulatory landscape governing the commercial use of unmanned vehicles in all sectors – air, land and sea.”

I like the broader focus on swimmers, crawlers and fliers. Intel is the primary event sponsor and they have put together quite the august lineup. If you’re in DC you might oughta consider going. November 1 and 2.

Thanks for reading and for sharing. You can find all of the back issues of Dronin’ On here.


Christopher Korody
follow me @dronewriter

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