View from the portal – Sangre de Cristo range

Hi all –

Happy to have had the chance to do an interview with Jeremiah Karpowicz for Commercial UAV News, 2019 Predictions for the Commercial Drone Industry with Christopher Korody which was prompted by last week’s ‘Great Expectations 2019 Forecast‘ double issue.

This is the last issue for 2018 which is finishing in style with Gatwick, the FAA, the AMA and Amazon. I started the week thinking I was going to write a few words. But this turned out to be a busy week. Remember you can’t make this stuff up.


Map shows single runway – courtesy of Gatwick Airport

Last week the Go Around video was a hit drawing chuckles, you bets and I haves from around the Dronin’ On universe. This week it was the story at Gatwick (LGW) as two drones created an unprecedented disruption at a major international airport.

Reader Brad H wrote in bright and early Thursday wondering if this was some kind of tipping point. I was kind of flip and replied “Sad to say, no it’s just a waste of JP-4. The same thing happened last August (i.e. 16 months ago).

Then came a report from The Telegraph, Live Police Call in the Army to Help Deal With Gatwick Chaos as Drones Cause Runway to Close – Live Updates.

What may interest only me is the list of additional articles:

  • What are the laws surrounding drones at airports?
  • How to claim compensation for disrupted flights
  • Gatwick admit will take “several days” to recover
  • Could a drone really bring down a plane?
  • Harry de Quetteville | Drones: fine line between toy and terror

Then came this story in the NYT. The headline alone should be enough to give you chills, Gatwick Airport Closed After Drone Flights That Officials Call ‘Deliberate’. Though they are denying that it is terrorist related…

The assistance reported by the Telegraph turns out to be confirmation from the Ministry of Defense that “We are deploying specialist equipment to Gatwick Airport to assist Sussex Police,” a ministry spokesman said, declining to provide details.”

Also new and different is that it happened more than once:

Chris Woodroofe, Gatwick’s chief operating officer, told Sky News that two staff members first spotted a drone Wednesday night. “Since then, the drone has appeared and disappeared and appeared and disappeared,” he said. The last reported sighting was around 11 a.m.

I was interested to read that the Gatwick PD were reluctant to go to guns because of the risk. By Thursday evening (MST) The Telegraph was back with:

Police are now considering shooting down the drone causing chaos at Gatwick Airport which remains closed as bosses weigh up halting all flights
on Friday. 

Detective Chief Superintendent Jason Tingley, of Sussex Police, said there had been more than 50 sightings of the device in the 24 hours since 9pm on Wednesday, when the airport first closed.

Tell me these guys didn’t pack a whole bunch of batteries, spare props, and extra drones. Plus a case of Red Bull.

Now let’s consider the plight of the not so happy Holiday travelers. NYT again “A total of 760 flights carrying 115,000 passengers had been scheduled to leave and arrive Thursday before the day started.” No doubt the final tally is worse.

How does the airport not have the resources to down the drone?” she said. “What kind of message does this give to terrorists and criminals?”

Imagine this happening at one of the four busiest airports in the US this week – ATL, LAX, ORD, DFW.

Axios PM headlined 1 big thing: The drone nightmare is here.

Be smart, via Axios’ Andrew Freedman: Gatwick is uniquely susceptible since it’s a small, single-runway airport (not small in impact but in area). [see the thoughtfully provided map]

  • Doing this at Atlanta or Denver or Chicago would be really hard, more like half an airport shutdown, as the drone operators would have to cover a massive distance.
  • The flip side: If they can’t defend a single runway airport from this, what can they defend from a drone attack?

A follow up story in the NYT says:

LONDON — British officials from across government are meeting to discuss how to bring an end to the “serious incident” at Gatwick Airport where the presence of several drones has grounded flights…

“The point of those meetings is to bring together all of the officials from all the relevant departments in one place to ensure that you have an accurate picture of events and make sure that all available resources are being deployed,” he said.

In short these guys have the whole government flummoxed.

A perfect segue to Rogue Drones Force Gatwick Airport Closure: Is the U.S. Equipped to Handle a Similar Situation? by Sara Baxenberg and Josh Turner writing for Wiley Connect. It’s an excellent analysis of the current state of play including the 2018 FAR. While there is an optimistic ending well in the future, the article points to the heavy lifting that needs doing.

Even with the ability to identify UAS owners and operators, the question remains as to how drone threats can be mitigated, and who can conduct that mitigation. 

Early this year, Travis Moran wrote a brilliant guest post, The Counter Drone Conundrum, which looks at the complexities of the kill decision. There is tremendous liability associated with deciding to interdict, one protection that LeClair Ryan has been advocating is The SAFETY Act, but the fact remains that the available mitigation technology (with the exception of nets and eagles) all poses a risk to aircraft in the area.

As a regular contributor, I asked Travis for his thoughts on what has just gone down. He pointed to a comment from the local PD. “Detective Chief Superintendent Jason Tingley said police were working on the assumption that “this is a modified and professionally prepared drone because obviously there has been a number of sightings

This leads me to believe that they must have some form of RF tech deployed there and that the tech has been defeated. 

As of Friday morning, Gatwick was open for business. They have not caught anyone though The Guardian reports Police Say There Are ‘Persons of Interest’ as Flights Resume. While this screen grab from the Evening Standard offers
an explanation.

screen grab from video – click to watch

Military equipment is being used to stop further drone disruption at Gatwick Airport as Transport Secretary Chris Grayling insisted passengers are safe despite the operator not being caught. 

The NYT has a fine wrap up article with a lot of industry players, Could a Drone Disruption Like Gatwick’s Happen at a U.S. Airport? I particularly like this quote:

Luke Fox, the founder and chief executive of WhiteFox, a drone airspace security company, said drones frequently fly near airports. “Every single airport we’ve deployed our technology at, we’ve seen it happening daily,” he said. “The only difference is that they saw the drone this time.” (my emphasis)

For a view from the ground, I checked in with Kirsty and David McKinlay-Stewart. Both come from LE. Their Crisis Response Journal has recently expanded to include drones.

As someone who is a firm advocate of the use of drones and UAV’s in support of public safety, the events in London of the last few days will only serve to demonise the use of drones and increase the debate about ownership control and licensing of drone activity – not a bad thing in itself, but something that will undoubtedly eventually impact on the thousands of responsible drone owners. 

What this does highlight clearly however is the impact that a single person can have using a drone illegally and that much more needs to be done to advance the development of effective counter-measures and make them mainstream products.

Don’t think that the inability to respond is lost on the airline industry. Nobody has put a number to it yet, but it’s not going to be small.

I was going to leave it to Dan Reed and Forbes to put a bow on it, Gatwick Drones Expose Another Asymmetric Threat That Airports, Airlines Are Hard-Pressed
To Handle

Technology could be deployed to detect and locate the source of drone control signals, but an operator could disappear quickly before officials could reach the operator’s location. And such detection and tracking technology, which isn’t cheap, would have to be deployed at every commercial airport in the nation, and operated by trained technicians backed up by officers prepared to respond quickly to any detected operators on virtually a 24/7 basis. For cost, staffing and practicality reasons none of that is likely to happen soon, if ever.

But apparently, not everybody got the memo that ISIS has been whooped – this mission accomplished thing has bad juju.

ISIS poster

ISIS Threatens Drone Attacks Against West After Gatwick Airport Shut Down by Robot Flying Over Runway An ISIS-affiliated media group has publicised a poster depicting a drone attack. It comes after a London airport was shut during the busiest time of year after a drone was flown near a runway.

Note the text in the middle left, Sender: The Islamic State

The bad actors – who have clearly been advanced from careless and clueless to criminal are apparently not done.

At 1300MST Travis tweeted a sitrep “Latest episode cleared in 90 min meaning they must feel much more confident in the tech that is deployed which is prob combo RF/Radar/EOIR.”

You know, there just may be a Santa Claus. Late Friday evening, the Sussex Police reported Two Arrested in Drone Disruption at Gatwick. No details.

Still no word out of Mexico about what caused the damage to the 737.

Perhaps the appropriate entities will now make the necessary investments to find out what really happens when a drone hits a plane.


Visualize it: See FAA UAS Data on a Map – courtesy FAA – click to explore

A very productive week. For those of you tracking the progress of the various rules there was significant movement forward. Morning Transportation reported on the progress of Safe and Secure Operations of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems.

REVIEW OF DRONE NOTICE IS DONE: OMB has finished reviewing an advance notice of proposed rulemaking on “safe and secure operations” of drones. The administration has said that the ANPRM is “necessary to address safety and security concerns from the homeland security, federal law enforcement, and national defense communities.”

No doubt this just got a boost. Next step is that after making whatever changes OMB and the security agencies request, the rule will be posted for public comment. Remember that this is an ANPRM so it will not result in a rule, the purpose is to provide input to future rulemaking.

Last week I wondered whatever happened to the DAC. Boom. Thursday, Morning Transportation reported that:

NAMES, PLEASE: Want to nominate someone to be a member of the Drone Advisory Committee? FAA is looking for folks “in good public standing” who “currently serve as a member of their organization’s core senior leadership team with the ability to make [drone]-related decisions,” according to a Federal Register notice to be published today. The deadline for nominations is Jan. 9.

Put your best people up please – we need some fresh blood.

Friday MT reported that another rule has completed it’s OIRA review:

Speaking of drone regulation: Back on this side of the pond, OMB is done reviewing a long-awaited proposed rule on drone flights over the people, clearing the way for the rule to be issued imminently. Currently, operators need a waiver from FAA to fly their devices over people. Keep an eye on the Federal Register for this one.

I know it’s Christmas but don’t get your hopes up, the “rule to be issued imminently” just means that it will be posted for public comment. I spoke with Lisa Ellman from Hogan Lovells about this and she explained that by completing the rulemaking process, the FAA will be ready to move forward once Remote ID is in place. One thing she stressed:

As the FAA moves forward, it is going to be very important for the community to particpate in the NPRM process.

Finally UAST (Unmanned Aircraft Safety Team) would like your feedback on “…A standard reporting format of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) sightings reports. Input is being solicited from various industry stakeholders to ensure that UAS sightings reports contain enough information to be useful…”


courtesy AMA

Remember those valiant defenders of 336. The old guard fled the building. But Morning Transportation reports that:

The Academy of Model Aeronautics’ executive council elected Chad Budreau as the group’s executive director. He was director of public relations and government affairs before he became interim executive director in April. 

Congratulations to Chad. And no, he wasn’t a shoo in. He beat out 100 highly qualified candidates who were all dying to figure out how the AMA was going to make payroll as membership revenue has been in near constant decline…

But no worries, one thing we have learned about Chad is that he is fond of deception and misstatement as a marketing strategy. Like “Did you hear the one about how you have to join the AMA to fly your drone?” Same guy.

Reliable sources, citing AMA publications for reference, wrote in to alert me that:

It appears the AMA is trying to meet privately with FAA to mitigate / get a carve out for the 400 foot rule. The intent of Congress was explicit and clear. Not sure how FAA would get the authority to waive this very specific provision.

More concerning is that Chad is working on securing a carve out from the Remote ID rule. Their argument is that recreational flyers are easily found and so should be exempt as they’re visible within line of site of the sUAS they’re flying. That’s BS, as the idea is to identify the sUAS to other users of the airspace, manned and unmanned, and it’s ridiculous to think that deconfliction relies on someone on the ground looking for the operator.

So they are proposing that only recreational sUAS capable of autonomous flight need to have Remote ID. There was something like that in the ARC. Didn’t you write that’s practically everything up there?

The other thing they’re pushing is for AMA fields to be exempt. The argument against this is similar … as manned and unmanned aircraft would then have the chore of programming in locations as opposed to a broadcast.

As we’ve seen over the years, AMA’s dirty little secret is they’re not terribly disciplined about keeping their location database up to date. Which would result in a lot of clutter in the system.

The other not-so-secret is that AMA’s safety record is hardly sparkling.

Now if you wonder why Chad would want these things, the answer is really simple. It’s the same one that it has always been, to drive membership and thus guarantee his paycheck. The ad will read “Look at all the cool things that you can do when you join the AMA.”

NOTE TO THE FAA – the good ole days of AC 91-57 are long gone. Such a rule would never have been drafted in the past five years. Let’s begin at the beginning. We haven’t even heard a statement about CBOs, or if AMA qualifies as a CBO under the new rules.

But the biggest thing is this. Six long years later, the FAA finally has the legislation it needs to bring peace to the kingdom. We need a unified, harmonized rule set – not one that is subject to endless debate and circular arguments on every Buzzy the Pilot forum on the Internet. Having multiple classes of operators has caused a lot of confusion, which directly strains the ability and challenges the credibility the FAA has in compliance and enforcement.

The FAA wrote the book on how this works. Extended operating permissions go to those who demonstrate competence through testing, and airworthiness through certification. It is time to get control of the sUAS space and treat it with the same consistency with which the FAA treats the rest of the NAS.


early delivery trial – courtesy of Amazon

It had to happen. Bloomberg headlines Forget Drones. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos Needs Lots of Delivery Guys:

To keep up with ravenous demand from Prime subscribers, the company is offloading the costs and risks to mom-and-pop delivery startups. 

Instead of charting a future that makes drivers obsolete, Amazon is so dependent on them it’s copying FedEx Corp. to build a network of independent couriers around the country in a frantic effort to keep pace with demand that peaks
in December. 

This headline from the NYT is quite extraordinary, Last-Minute Shoppers Increasingly Trust Only Amazon to Deliver.

My version of the story is that the guy who said Jeff, I got this, three years tops, has left the building.

2019 promises to be an even more eventful year. If you know someone who needs to connect the dots on all things UAS, please forward this or sign them up for a free subscription to Dronin’ On. It’s Christmas, and it’s on me.

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Here’s to the Merriest of Holidays and a Bright Shiny New Year. See you there.

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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