The Not Quite 4th of July issue of Dronin' On 07.01.17
Hondo rhapsody

Hi all –

A whole bunch of harrumphing went on up on the Hill this week as the Senate and House versions of the FAA Reauthorization Act took shape.

Since you can’t tell the players without a scorecard:

  • The Senate bill is S.1405, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2017.
  • The House bill is H.R. 2997, 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act.

Both bills are intended to reauthorize federal aviation programs through the fiscal year 2021. In practical terms, the bills give direction to the FAA on a wide range of issues and provide funding for the agency to operate.

A few things to keep in mind about how this actually works, and then we’ll get to my idea of the highlights.

This is early innings. Both bills are still in their respective Committees in what are called “markup” sessions. This is where the puts and takes get done. Dozens of amendments are getting added and I suppose deleted. e.g.The Senate bill has
56 amendments.

With the Committee work done, each bill will be placed on its respective Calendar for debate by the entire chamber, after which it will come up for a vote. (As you will see, this need not happen in parallel.) After one or both bills pass, the members from both chambers will go into Conference to hash out the differences and create the final bill.

The process ends with a Conference Report that is sent back to both chambers for a vote.

If the Report is accepted, the bill then goes to the President. It is either signed and becomes law – or is vetoed.

(If you’re interested in learning more, here is one of many helpful links describing how a bill becomes a law.)

The biggest “political” issue is the proposal to privatize air traffic control (ATC) through the creation of a not-for-profit entity. This is not a new idea – it first surfaced in 1983, during the Reagan years. Last year it died in the House Committee. This year, the sponsors led by House Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) have put more time into rounding up the key players and reassuring the general aviation and rural aviation communities.

Because both DOT Secretary Chao and President Trump trumpeted the idea as the centerpiece of the administration’s infrastructure initiative, people are waiting to see if that will be enough to gin up the necessary support. (One reason it was DOA in 2016 is that Obama did not support the concept.) As of now, it is not at all clear that they have the votes for a floor vote in the House.

And here is another hard to ignore clue – there is no such provision in the Senate bill. Which means that if it does make it out of the House, then it would have to be negotiated in Conference.

If you are wondering why we are doing Reauthorization (again) this year, it is because last year the House bill never made it out of Committee. Meanwhile, under the bipartisan leadership of Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), the Senate handily passed their bill 95-3. This basically forced the House to accept an extension for one year in Conference. Which ironically is a fundamental argument for privatization. Politico has ongoing coverage.

Despite all of the press, neither the bipartisan Drone Federalism Act S.1272, nor the Drone Innovation Act H.R. 2930 have been incorporated into the respective bills. That said, both the Senate and House bills address the issue of state and local involvement in drone regulation. Betsy Lillian writing for did a fine job of comparing the two bills from a UAS perspective here.

I attended the Dentons webinar hosted by Mark McKinnon and Todd Bertoson who put together a 25-slide review of the two bills. Todd is an old Senate hand and provided some behind the scenes color, Mark as always managed to make the indigestible palatable.  Here’s their top line breakdown of the differences between the bills. And a few of the things I found noteworthy you should know about.

Safe to say the issue of model (recreational/hobby) registration will be addressed, along with a definition of a Community Based Organization (CBO). Basically “tidying” up the 2012 legislation.

Last year’s FESSA included 13 UAS specific provisions. One that has risen to prominence is 2209 which requires the FAA to create a way for non-government entities to designate specific structures and facilities as critical infrastructure, effectively making them no-fly zones. This is not a simple thing to do, and so far no new mechanism has been advanced to do it in either bill.

Nor have any provisions for CUAS been proposed in either bill. The draft of the proposed White House Drone Security bill that was announced in late May was to be buried in a different bill, so it is unlikely to surface here.

Privacy is a hot topic in both bills. The FAA has already made it clear that privacy is outside of their mission. Mark and Todd wondered what beyond the NTIA Voluntary guidelines might reasonably be done. As Brian Kennedy from Hogan Lovells pointed out on our panel at #EDCSummit, in the absence of law, the courts often look to these types of voluntary standards.

A good but complex idea is waiver transparency, in which the FAA would be instructed to make public the specific conditions and mitigations for which a waiver was granted. This would do a good deal to help people figure out what they needed to do to get a waiver, but will be seen as penalizing those who took the time to develop a procedure. So it’s expedite the process (good) at the expense of competitive advantage (bad.)

There is a lot of language in both bills about streamlining or rethinking the certification process. While this is currently aimed at commercial and general aviation, the presenters made it clear that there is no longer any doubt that aircraft and software certification will be part of UTM and BVLOS.

Finally, there is the question of who is going to pay for the UAS UTM. Apparently, the privatized ATC proponents have no interest in picking up the tab. Playing it forward, I am guessing that there will be some hefty commercial UAS registration fees in the future.

One closing thought. The lobbying, gaudy forecasts and unrelenting press coverage have all had the effect of making drones ever more visible on the legislative radar. The dream of letting drones evolve “unregulated like the Internet did,” is long past. We are becoming ever more deeply entrenched in a highly regulated environment. In the end the cost of compliance will kill a lot of hopes and dreams.

Lots of other stuff going on. The Paris Air Show ended with Boeing winning the commercial aircraft sales battle with Airbus on the strength of their newly unveiled 737 Max10 twin-aisle.

Announcements from both companies demonstrate that the UAS industry is part of a much larger shift in aviation. Airbus got a lot of headlines for ushering in a new era of preventive maintenance based on massive data collection by their new brand (division?) Skywise.

Skywise is targeted to become both a broad and deep platform for data from many sources, including Airbus, aircraft operators and, ultimately, suppliers and their entire supply chain. Airbus believes the new approach will deliver improved fleet reliability, quicker root cause analysis for in-service issues, better maintenance policies, and even enable the manufacturer to optimize aircraft performance…”

Add to that Airbus Aerial which they announced at XPONENTIAL, and you get a very clear sense of the role that flying sensors are going to play.

Meanwhile Boeing is looking hard at the impending pilot shortage. Aviation Week reports that the company “Plans to flight-test an autonomous civil aircraft in the next two years, as part of a broad study aimed at proving whether or not aircraft with reduced crew, single or even no pilot could be operated for passenger and freight missions with the same levels of safely and integrity as current
manned aircraft

The cost savings of automating something as fundamental as take-offs and landings have already been proven by the military. A new report from the Mitchell Institute in offered the following analysis.

“Since the fielding of the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper, the majority of mishaps have occurred during the takeoff and landing phases of flight, with most of those accidents attributed to pilot error. During this same period, the Army began fielding its MQ-1C Gray Eagle with an integrated automated takeoff and landing system. As of early 2016, this technology has resulted in more than 75,000 Gray Eagle takeoffs and landings without a single mishap.”

I think that this Paris gathering will also be remembered as the year the industry began to look at passenger drones in new ways. Enter the Jetsons, this is Ehang on steroids.

Avionics has the story 7 Future Aircraft Concepts That Could Change Aviation. “Over the last year, several companies, including Airbus and Boeing have revealed new aerial flying concepts designed to give drivers in congested cities new options for getting to work, transporting cargo and other uses…”  KPMG did an interesting advertorial on the topic using the Jetsons idea.

In the here and now, three significant market research projects will go a long way to helping us understand what’s actually going on in the UAV space.

From Peter van Blyenburgh and UVS International comes a call to participate in a Survey on UAS/RPAS/Drone Operations. As a market researcher, I love
the approach:

“Currently, the UAS/RPAS/Drone community, as well as regulatory authorities and the press, make suppositions concerning the drone market (the market sectors involved), as well as the flight operations actually taking place in these
market sectors.

These suppositions are not based on justifiable numbers. This survey has as purpose to contribute to correcting this situation.”

MITRE’s Center for Advanced Aviation System Development (CAASD) conducts research for the FAA. It is seeking both commercial and recreational drone pilots.

“CAASD plans to assess new technology and procedures, along with pilot roles and responsibilities. Pilot input is desired to help fully develop new concepts.” 

For more, read here. Sign up here – if that’s not working yet, try checking here.

Sky Revolutions, a UK service provider, has just released the results of their Drone Effectiveness Study which looks at service offerings from a customer perspective. The results, presented in sUAS News, may surprise you.

  • 62% of respondents want guides explaining the process.
  • 62% wanted to see examples of the output.
  • 61% wanted legal information about drone use.

Also in sUAS News, a nice story on my favorite dark horse. MMC: The Major Drone Manufacturer Driving 3 Industry Trends. No selfies here. Taken together, the three trends are the beginning of a fundamentally different customer centric go-to-market strategy:

1) Expanding applications
Multi-purpose drones differ significantly from a smaller consumer or prosumer craft, as they can handle a wide variety of applications [through multiple payloads] for a single investment.

2) Military Technology is Moving Downstream – and vice versa.
Easy to fly, well-supported and less expensive than aircraft produced by traditional military providers, MMC’s industrial drones are gaining major market share in the
military sector.

3) Service is a Key Component
MMC has taken a dominant position in the commercial drone market because of their total solution approach: they offer training, flight planning, pilot services, and after-sales service to help customers all over the world launch their
drone programs.

It is uncanny how well this addresses many of the issues raised in Mitchell Institute report.

And now for some local news. After I recently wrote about the new DOI/USFS #KnowWhereNotToFly program, The Taos News reports that a drone grounded air ops at the nearby Bonita Canyon fire. Great headline Drone users, feds push public to learn rules. Zacc Dukowitz did a nice story about the DOI program for UAVCoach.

Further south, near the NMSU FAA Flight Test Center, the Las Cruces Sun-News ran with Haboob sweeps over Las Cruces, goes viral. In case you didn’t know, a haboob is an intense dust storm – as shot by our intrepid pilot who barely makes it back to earth.

Thanks for reading and for sharing. All of the back issues of Dronin’ On are here.

Have a bang-up Fourth.


Christopher Korody
follow me @dronewriter














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