Concept for the 18 rotor Volocopter air taxi

Hi all –

A long time ago I lived on the Russian River next to the Korbel vineyard in western Sonoma County. My heart goes out to everyone in this very special part of the world. The drone footage here and here is devastating – as if we need
more devastation.

I got some great comments from sharp-eyed readers about my Drone World Expo issue. Thanks for paying such close attention!


First things first. I have two corrections to comments that I incorrectly attributed to Brendan Groves, Counsel to the Deputy Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and Chairman of DOJ’s Working Group on Unmanned Aircraft. Clearly, the wrong guy to misquote, but he was very gracious. First, a remark confirming of the use of sUAS to facilitate terrorism in Yemen, the Philippines and soon perhaps Spain. Not a question that it is happening, just that he didn’t say it on the panel.

I also incorrectly attributed a remark about the domestic threat to Brendan, when in fact he was quoting from FBI Director Christopher Wray’s recent testimony at a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

[UAS] It is a topic that we are discussing a lot lately. I think we do know that terrorist organizations have an interest in using drones. We have seen that overseas already with some frequency. I think that the expectation is that it is coming
here, imminently. 


Director Wray’s testimony provides a perfect segue to this week’s startling, but not entirely surprising, development which the Wall Street Journal broke as FAA Panel Splits on Drone Tracking Requirements, Bloomberg Technology headlined FAA’s Panel Fails to Agree on Need for Drone Security Measures and Fortune wrote up as Why Commercial Use of Drones Just Hit a Major Setback.

This is the WSJ lead; the rest is behind their paywall.

In a potentially serious setback for expanded commercial-drone operations, a federal advisory panel has failed to agree on proposals to identify and track unmanned aircraft nationwide.

The committee, which presented its recommendations to aviation regulators earlier this month, couldn’t reach consensus on basic questions regarding categories of drones that should require such remote monitoring.

To which Bloomberg added the coup de grâce:

…According to two people familiar with the deliberations, a majority of members on the committee didn’t sign on to its final report, which was submitted to the FAA
last week.

In this section I want to focus on the business case and break down the process – how will this impact the industry, and what happens now? Then in the FAA section, I have another take for you.

If you’re in a hurry to rake leaves this morning, the instant answer is that you would have had to think long and hard to come up with anything that could do more to delay the development of the UAS industry. And less to help the FAA move UAS forward. Not good at all.

Remote ID is foundational – rules for Overflight, CUAS, BVLOS, UTM and Delivery are not possible.

To begin at the beginning, the purpose of any ARC is to provide input that a regulatory agency can use to help formulate new rules. As a practical matter, a rule based on consensus is much more likely to survive the rulemaking process than one that isn’t.

For a more nuanced understanding, I enlisted the help of two aviation experts. Mark Dombroff is the former head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s aviation litigation group and a partner at LeClairRyan where he heads the UAS practice. Sandy Murdock is a former FAA Chief Counsel and FAA Deputy Administrator who is now a Legal Advisor and blog editor with JDA Aviation Technology Solutions.

To see the big picture, we need to hop on the way back machine. In July 2016, Congress was unable to come up with a Reauthorization bill. Instead they agreed on the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 which kicked the can down the road to September 2017. (Two weeks ago, the can was kicked to
March 2018.)

The Act contained 13 UAS specific provisions. The first one, SEC. 2202, called for The development of consensus standards for remotely identifying operators and owners of unmanned aircraft systems and associated unmanned aircraft.

(As an interesting aside, it is unclear if the word “consensus” binds the FAA in
any way.)

Eight months later, the UAS Identification and Tracking Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) was announced at the FAA’s UAS Symposium in March 2017. Their charter was effective May 4, 2017. 73 entities were represented on the membership list as of June 18, 2017.

The American Bar Association has a comprehensive summary in which it notes that for SEC. 2202:

DEADLINE. —Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act [July 2016], the Administrator shall submit to the appropriate committees of Congress a report on any standards developed under subsection

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the deadline came and went a few weeks after the ARC’s first meeting at the end of June.

The first impact came in January 2017 when the FAA submitted their draft for Operations Over People to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for review. OIRA is part of the Office of Management and Budget. Their job includes reviewing draft regulations which is the first step in the rulemaking process for all federal agencies. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) which allows for public comment follows the review.

At OIRA the proposed rule got shot down by Federal law enforcement agencies (there was never a NPRM or public comment period because the rule was already dead.) The reason was simple, and I am paraphrasing – we don’t think it’s a good idea to let drones fly over people without a way to identify the operators and owners. How about that?

Since January awareness of the effectiveness of drones as flying IED delivery systems has been creating ever-increasing amounts of heartburn at every level of government. At the top, Elaine Duke who at the time was Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and Nicholas Rasmussen, Director of the National Counter Terrorism Center joined Director Wray before the Homeland Security committee I referred to earlier. The Washington Examiner reported that:

Rasmussen said at the hearing that drones have been used by terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. “There is a community of experts that has emerged inside the federal government that is focused on this pretty much full time. Two years ago, this was not a concern… We are trying to up our game.”

So now that we know that remote identification is foundational, is a congressional mandate and has the government and the military worried, let’s connect the rest of the dots.

The ARC operated behind closed doors so there is no inside scoop but Mark thinks that the split is indicative of larger issues. Of necessity, the FAA’s definition of safety has expanded to include both cyber and Homeland security. As Mark put it, the ‘let’s do it now’ tech culture has just had the first of what will be many encounters with the ‘not so fast’ aviation and law enforcement communities.

Martin Gomez, Director of Aeronautical Platforms, Facebook said much the same thing on the Drone World Expo keynote panel when he talked about the clash of cultures between traditional manned aviation and the UAS community.

In addition, there’s a healthy dose of realpolitik that cannot be ignored.  The former head of Homeland Security, John F. Kelly is ensconced as the White House Chief of Staff. His Deputy Chief of Staff, Kirstjen Nielsen was just sworn in as the Secretary of Homeland Security. It is highly unlikely that focus of the administration is going to change. One domestic UAS incident will only harden it.

From a what’s next point of view, Sandy told me that Advisory Committees do not always come to a consensus. Nor does a lack of consensus necessarily derail a regulatory project.

The FAA could ask the ARC to reconvene. Whether or not they do, and whether or not there is consensus, the UAS Identification and Tracking Aviation Rulemaking Committee’s recommendations will be published and the appendix will include all of the opinions. From there it’s the FAA’s call – they could mandate a solution and potentially face an uphill fight – or they could do nothing for a while.

A big dot here is that the FAA is not the ones in a hurry. In the greater scheme of things, they have much more to lose – the world’s safest and most valuable airspace – than to gain. Kicking the can down the road to get it right is not a problem for them – and it is certainly not a problem for law enforcement and Homeland Security.

The rulemaking process for Operations Over People is supposed to go forward in 2018, though in January the FAA noted that it was contingent on “Ironing out privacy and security concerns before it can finalize proposed regulations.”

So here is the last dot. If I am Earl Lawrence, Director of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Office, and I am getting a new Administrator to be named, and I don’t have a remote identification rule in the starting gate that satisfies security concerns, I can’t imagine why I would want to start the rulemaking process for Operations
Over People.

Is it the end of the world? That depends on your burn rate. It will get worked out – as Sandy told me The solution will be driven by technology and a proponent who understands the operational components/value of the protected use of airspace.

Still, it is a cautionary tale. As Mark said in a recent interview, “If someone wants to know what the drone world is going to look like in ten years, look at the
aviation world


Back at cruising altitude, the continuing problem with reauthorization is the House proposal to privatize air traffic control. A centerpiece of the Trump infrastructure ‘vision’, opponents see privatization as favoring commercial carriers at the expense of the general aviation, along with other sundry stakeholders including the rotor and UAS communities.

One of the groups leading the opposition is the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA). Morning Transportation reports that FAA Administrator Michael Huerta just addressed the annual confab at the Business Aviation Convention & Exposition in Las Vegas. He said that:

We must not allow ourselves to dig in so deeply to our own position that the debate becomes a volley of talking points that we lob past one another. Disagreement can be a good thing when both sides listen to each other and agree to collaborate rather than draw lines in the sand.”

I share it because it bears a striking resemblance to what he said (per Fortune) in his keynote at InterDrone in September:

Acknowledging disagreements within the [remote identification] group, Huerta sounded optimistic at the time, saying that “tension between different interests and perspectives helps bring us all to the middle, creating the right balance.”

As Rodney once wondered, why can’t we all get along? One reason might be that we’ve all got different amounts of skin in the game – as in the few who do, and the many who want to. The work of the Remote ID ARC is off the record for good reason. Still one can take DJI’s Director of Technical Standards, Walter Stockwell’s comments about “Orwellian models” at ICAO as a clue.

As I’ve written many times before, there is a big disconnect between DJI, which enjoys well north of 50% of the global civilian drone market, and everybody else.


Last week The Telegraph ran European Commission Demands EU Laws on Drones After String of Near-Misses With Aeroplanes. That part probably sounds familiar – but I guarantee you that these two paragraphs will not:

£441,000 of EU cash [US$586K] is being used to support the demonstration of new “geo-fencing” services.

EU funding worth £7.9 million [US$10.5M] has been earmarked for projects to accelerate the development of U-space, such as technology allowing drones to communicate with each other. reports that German Hobby Drone Pilots Must be Licensed. I especially admire this Teutonic touch:

“Drones now must be marked with their specific weight and must also have a fire-resistant plaque with the name and address of their owners, should the owner need to be identified.”

Remember what fun is?

Fun is Dubai. Thanks to reader Brad H for From Flying Taxis to Robocops, Dubai Showcases Technologies That Will Transform It Into a Futuristic Metropolis. Clearly being rich, progressive and nimble has distinct advantages.


The undisputed star of the expo, which has more than 4,000 companies from 71 countries participating, was Dubai’s flying taxi project developed by German drone firm Volocopter.


If you are keeping an eye on the FAA, sign up for FAA Reorganization and Change: Everything Changing or Nothing Changing? on October 19th. Mark McKinnon and Mark Dombroff are continuing their tradition of excellent webinars at their new hangar at LeClairRyan – this one is not drone specific but some of you
will benefit.

Be sure to take a look at the Commercial UAV Expo Americas conference program which opens October 24th in Las Vegas.

The Mobility Unmanned Conference is coming up in Washington D.C., November 1 – 2. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), the lead sponsor of the Safe DRONE Act of 2017, will deliver the keynote. Dronin’ On subscribers get a 10% discount – just use code 10DBCMU17 when registering.


October 9-13 marked the third annual GE Drone Week. We are all invited to “Join our drones for an exploration of the present and future of energy.” It’s free on YouTube. And it’s good.

And just because I am an Angelino and a Space Shuttle guy, here is one of my all-time favorite videos, Time-lapse Video: Space shuttle Endeavour’s Trek Across L.A.

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


Christopher Korody
follow me @dronewriter

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