The 2018 FAA UAS Symposium issue of Dronin' On 03.10.17
Francis Scott Key Bridge – Baltimore harbor

Hi all –

Thanks to all of you, #OurCommonCause is gaining traction. Here’s a handy dandy letter you can tailor to taste and send to your Congressional representatives. Make Yourself Heard!

In this issue , I’ll look at the news coming out of the 2018 FAA UAS Symposium including comments by DOT Secretary Elaine Chao and FAA Acting Administrator Dan Elwell, a possible tiered approach to Remote ID, a first look at S.1405, a look at yesterday’s sixth DAC meeting, safety, think pieces and Eye Candy. It is beginning to feel like we are approaching a tipping point.

I particularly liked Miriam McNabb’s headline FAA Symposium: Drones Seeing “Massive Adoption,” Safety Concerns are a Primary Issue which revealed a delicious irony. In an industry where AUVSI’s $82B is still the bait on the hook, at an event co-sponsored by AUVSI, it fell to the White House to bring some sanity to the projections:

Michael Kratsios, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy U.S. Technology Officer, said that the administration offered their full support for drone integration. Saying that he expected the 75,000 commercial drone registrations to grow “fivefold” over the next five years.”

That’s ~350-375,000 commercial drones in 2023…

DOT Secretary Elaine Chao dropped in via video Thursday afternoon. Someone worked hard on the 2:44 jam packed script. Ms. Chao had three main points:

  • Over flight, night operation and BVLOS are being worked with security agencies
  • There were 149 UASIPP lead applications and the agency is on track to announce ten in May.
  • She closed by pointing out that the public has legitimate concerns about safety, security and privacy and urged attendees to “…Step up and help educate the public about the benefits of this new technology and to address legitimate public concerns.”

Acting Administrator Dan Elwell’s presentation at the UAS Symposium, Writing History in Real Time, is on the FAA website. It’s a short speech, I encourage you to read it.


Two things were widely reported, Remote ID and LAANC. But I think that the coverage skipped a lot of context and missed the heart of Mr. Elwell’s comments. Here’s what he said about Remote ID:

We also continue to evaluate remote identification for unmanned aircraft.  For this industry to flourish commercially and be of public service, all aircraft—unmanned or otherwise—must be identifiable… If you want to fly in the system, you have to be identifiable and follow the rules. 

The provisions excepting model aircraft in the FAA Modernization Act of 2012 from any regulation must be revisited—soon—to address ongoing concerns related to security, law enforcement and integration. Reasonable steps should be taken to ensure accountability without overburdening the public, and collaboration between government and stakeholders, as mentioned before, will be critical to meeting
these challenges. 

Friday, Morning Transportation had what might be a big scoop, an idea that was floated on Earl Lawrence’s Remote ID panel.

HAVE A FEW TIERS: The FAA is planning a four-tiered approach to remote drone identification and tracking, outlined at a drone conference this week. Small drones flown in pre-approved sites wouldn’t need any special equipment, while all other models would, either on the ground or on the drone itself, to broadcast its identification or location. It’s a potential solution to concerns raised by law enforcement about drones being flown where they shouldn’t be, innocently
or otherwise.

No soup for you: The hope is that this approach will satisfy both recreational users, who point to a “model aircraft” exemption in drone law, and commercial drone operators who want everyone obeying the same rules of the road. That exemption may not be long for this world: Both acting FAA Administrator Dan Elwell and a staffer from the Senate Commerce Committee mentioned at the conference that they hope to “revisit” it in the pending FAA reauthorization bill, S. 1405 (115).

S.1405 is the Senate version of the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2017 (that is the bill that they were working on when they passed the extension.)

There are a number of drone specific provisions in the summary of the bill.

  • The Government Accountability Office shall review privacy issues and concerns associated with the operation of unmanned aircraft (drones) in the national airspace system.
  • The FAA shall establish a process for the acceptance of risk-based, consensus safety standards for the safe integration of small drones into
    such system.
  • DOT shall issue guidance for the operation of public drones.
  • The FAA shall develop a plan for the deployment of technologies to detect and mitigate potential airspace safety threats posed by drones.
  • Drone Operator Safety Act The bill amends the federal criminal code to make it a crime to operate a drone that knowingly or recklessly interferes with or disrupts the operation of an aircraft carrying one or more occupants in U.S. airspace.
  • DOT shall establish a Safety Oversight and Certification Advisory Committee

The Small UAV Coalition wrote an excellent letter to Chairmen Thune and Shuster and Ranking Members Nelson and DeFazio  about the need to modify 336 – with apologies to the writers, I have taken the liberty of shortening it – emphasis mine:

FAA reauthorization bills pending before both the House and the Senate include robust UAS subtitles with many initiatives strongly supported by industry. However, the Coalition asks that you include in an upcoming short-term extension a time-sensitive provision to reform Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 to enable the FAA to require all UAS operators who are required to register with the FAA to be equipped with remote identification and tracking capabilities.

As you know, Section 336 precludes the FAA from regulating model aircraft, to include recreational UAS. The Coalition… believes that any effort to require recreational UAS to be equipped with remote identification and tracking will face the same challenge unless Section 336 is repealed or reformed.


And now on to the sexy headline from the UAS Symposium, FAA Expands Drone Airspace Authorization Program.

[Based on the success of the five-site prototype] the agency will now conduct a nationwide beta test beginning April 30 that will deploy LAANC incrementally at nearly 300 air traffic facilities covering approximately 500 airports. The final deployment will begin on September 13.

In a press release, AirMap provided a regional roll out schedule. Also worth noting, AirMap has named a new CEO, David Hose. Welcome David. Ben Marcus will now be Chairman.

Skyward is offering The Complete Guide to the 2018 LAANC Rollout – which comes with some interesting mouse type:

Not every ATC facility has chosen to participate in LAANC at this point. Please don’t call your airport or ATC to ask about LAANC access—the FAA has been very clear about this. Second, this is the intended schedule set by the FAA, and we know things don’t always go as planned even as we hope for the best. Finally, the FAA is always the ultimate source of truth regarding live LAANC UAS facilities.

The FAA press release notes that The FAA also will consider agreements with additional entities to provide LAANC services. This is the race for the roses since sooner or later all of the service providers – at this writing AirMap, Project Wing, Rockwell Collins, Boeing (just announced) and Skyward – will charge for the LAANC service.

Think about it – four of the five LAANC service providers are Fortune 500 companies – #’s 14, 24, 27 and 492 in 2017.



Here is what Mr. Elwell said that nobody wrote about (abridged):

I’d be remiss not to mention the need to mitigate risks to national security and public safety posed by people who aren’t playing by the rules–whether by intent or ignorance. If you think about it, a malicious act could put a hard stop on
drone integration. 

Obviously, we can’t let that happen.  We can’t lose traction, nor can we jeopardize public safety or national security…

Congress has given DOD and the Department of Energy the authority to counter UAS that threaten sensitive facilities.  From where I stand, that’s the right move.  We support enabling other security partners such as the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to protect assets and operations critical to national security… As you can imagine, there’s considerable churn over this subject, and the public discourse needs to be robust—which is why I highlight it here. 

Congress is heavily involved with the drone issue, which I view as a positive sign… There are a number of provisions regarding UAS safety [in the drafts of the House and Senate Reauthorization bills] …

According to Morning Transportation, A White House official also announced this week that they’re working on legislation allowing DHS and law enforcement agencies to take down drones on their own if they pose a threat.

Travis Moran’s recent guest post, The Counter Drone Conundrum summarizes the high cost of doing nothing and the complexities of a kill, no kill decision.

Meanwhile concerns continue to increase. This week’s example is Can the U.S. Military Combat the Coming Swarm of Weaponized Drones?, a story in IEEE Spectrum. The first paragraph cuts right to the chase:

The committee behind the study proposes much more accelerated timeframes for sUAS and counter-sUAS research. [compared to the Army model.] “It should be more like, immediate, from today to 2019; imminent, from 2020 to 2022, and emerging, from 2023 to 2025.” 


To no one’s surprise, the AMA, whose membership has soared thanks to the combination of drones and 336, is firing back with an aggressive multi-front campaign. I know people don’t like to hear it, but these guys are the only group that has big membership numbers. They also have a war chest and have been making friends on the Hill since 1936.

This week in Morning Transportation the AMA is running this advertorial which maintains the status quo as prescribed in 336:

** A message from Know Before You Fly: This week, the nation’s leading UAS stakeholders, led by the Academy of Model Aeronautics, launched a new initiative to educate the public about the existing recreational drone laws they must follow and the consequences if they ignore or break the law. Learn more: **

The AMA has also volunteered to “assist” the has one of many stories, AMA Offers Expertise, Deplores “Media Sensationalism” Over Rogue Drone Incidents. Watch the double talk about the commercial drone industry as the AMA tries to have it both ways:

All of the bad publicity has led to heavy condemnation by the commercial drone industry.  Licensed operators who feel that drones are getting a bad name have called repeatedly for strong punitive action by the FAA against “rogue drones.”  But the AMA, advocating for both commercial and recreational drone operators and representing members who are flying under their community-based organization safety guidelines, is calling for a reasoned response and careful investigation.

And indeed, reasoned response is warranted – and real expertise is required. Still any news is good news as long as you spell my name right…

And despite the call for a “reasoned response,” the AMA’s letter includes some ‘throw the book at ’em’ rhetoric:

“In addition to offering our expertise, AMA urges the NTSB to recommend tough and severe penalties for any drone operator endangering the safety of other aircraft and/or people on the ground. Tougher enforcement, including civil and criminal penalties, and possibly jail time, will serve as a deterrent to others who flaunt existing drone laws.”

As any number of people have previously pointed out… One the NTSB does not prosecute, two it is hard to prove and three the penalties are minimal:

Again, there are two opportunities – the Extension and the Reauthorization.


One had to read Morning Transportation, the Federal Register or visit the RTCA website to know that the Sixth Drone Advisory Committee meeting was held yesterday in Virginia. You can see the agenda here.

One of the main agenda items was the review of Task Group 3’s (TG3) report on Funding the Integration of UAS into the National Airspace.

Specifically, this report makes recommendations about funding sources for the next three to five years, considers what activities should be prioritized, and finally, who should be responsible for funding UAS integration activities.  

This is an exceptional piece of work. Appendix 6 shows the sources of Short Term and Long Term funding for each priority. In the majority of categories, costs will be split (no specifics) between Government and Industry.

The companion piece, The DAC Meeting eBook, includes a PowerPoint presentation summarizing TG3’s work. I have reproduced Slide #17 (page 19 of the eBook) for legibility:

The Future – As Drones Take Off – Funding Ideas

  • The drone community recognizes that as it takes off, the federal government cannot provide a sustained level of investment, absent Congressional buy-in
  • TG3 members explored other ways the federal government could pay for drone operations over a 3-5-year time period.
  • The options explored include (note: some will require legislation):
    • User Fees – lots of government experience, can be tweaked to reflect policy preferences
    • Point of Sale Tax on drone-related hardware
    • Business Use/Transaction Tax
    • Public/Private Partnerships
    • Auction/Lease of Airspace
    • Access Charges
    • Other?

The government has played and will continue to play the role of an incubator. But the free ride is coming to an end. As Morning Transportation put it:

Drones don’t pay fees to the agency like manned aircraft do, but they’re taking up an increasingly large share of its bandwidth.


Writing in the JDA Journal, Sandy Murdock has posted Flight Safety Foundation Issues Expert Recommendations On Drones And Pilot Qualifications Which Are Likely To Create Debate. By way of introduction (emphasis is Sandy’s).

FSF President and CEO Jon Beatty took the unusual step of writing a letter to International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Secretary General Fang Liu, urging the organization to accelerate the promulgation of appropriate Standards and Recommended Practices… 

“The proliferation and operation of small drones by people without aviation experience is becoming one of the most significant hazards to manned aviation. This poses unacceptable risks to aviation safety.”

Commercial Drone Professional out of the UK did an interview with Jesse Kallman, “‘Legislation has to change significantly’ to enable UAV growth,’ claims Airbus Aerial. I found his comments to be very much in line with what Flight Safety had to say:

“This is going to take higher levels of safety when it comes to the aircraft, giving comfort to regulators and people, and it’s going to take higher levels of automation on the aircraft to reduce the burden on operators.”


The idea of automation takes us to OPINION: Has Artificial Intelligence Really Arrived in the Commercial Drone World?

Our goal at Sky-Futures is to bring a fully automated, end-to-end, drone-based inspection solution to clients through our Expanse software platform. Whilst we cannot directly influence how drone hardware develops, we have total control over how and where we automate the data analysis and data reporting process.

Also worth noting is McKinsey’s new An Executive’s Guide to AI explores the major types of Machine Learning and the major models of Deep Learning. The article asks Why AI now?

A convergence of algorithmic advances, data proliferation, and tremendous increases in computing power and storage has propelled AI from hype to reality.

Sound familiar?

Sean Pribyl writing for Blank Rome’s Main Brace offers Three Technological Developments for the Maritime Industry to Watch in 2018 which includes Smart Ships, Drones and Innovative Collaboration. Stakeholders should be cognizant of the jurisdictional limits and legal framework that governs combined aviation and marine operations. Who said the twain shall never meet?

Mark Dombroff at LeClair Ryan hosted a webinar on Social Media and Aviation. Follow the link to listen to the discussion which focuses on the risks, reward, upsides and downsides of social media and how it is affecting the aviation industry. There are lessons to be learned.

In Breaking Defense, Predator Started Drone Revolution, And Made Military Innovation Cool What made the Predator really innovative was its ability to provide persistent Intelligence. Fascinating article about change and the DOD.

Also Batteries, Bullets, & Drones: Commandant’s Wishlist For Infantry Task Force The Marine Corps [has] decided on a new size and structure for the rifle squad; the changes probably include adding a drone operator. Could this become the trained work force our industry needs to grow?

In WeTalkUAV, Are We Happy Moving Towards A Future With Permanent ‘Eyes in the Sky’? We already know some of the negative implications of too much surveillance. 

And in the NYT a fascinating article, For Two Months, I Got My News From Print Newspapers. Here’s What I Learned.

It has been life changing. Turning off the buzzing breaking-news machine I carry in my pocket was like unshackling myself from a monster who had me on speed dial, always ready to break into my day with half-baked bulletins. 


As promised, here are the spectacular 2018 New York City Drone Film Festival Winners. (View on YouTube to watch full screen.) Also here which has links to the winners websites. Binge away.

The X-Factor winner, Kingdom of the Wild is absolutely stunning though as always I am concerned about the impact of drones on wildlife.

And from National Geographic, They Saw Earth From Space. Here’s How It Changed Them.

Thank you for reading and for sharing. Back issues of Dronin’ On are here. You can now search using Boolean operators and the results are returned with
highlighted snippets.


Christopher Korody
Editor and Publisher
follow me @dronewriter












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