Hi all –

Hallelujah. It’s a thing. H.R. 302, The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, passed the Senate Wednesday 93 to 6. President Trump signed it Friday and the FAA is golden until 2023.

Thanks and congratulations to everyone who worked so tirelessly to make this happen for the commercial UAS industry.

I dedicated the entire issue to H.R. 302 last week after it was passed by House. This is a big complex bill and it is going to take time to sort it all out.

(Please note that the link to the bill I used last week does not match the pagination of the final version, but the SEC. numbers are consistent. I suggest you download the final version and use Acrobat search to navigate to the appropriate SEC. Going forward everything will refer to the final version)

Mark McKinnon and Mark Dombroff at LeClair Ryan did a 90 minute webinar on the new bill Thursday, the last 15 – 20 minutes were devoted to UAS. You can download the deck and the recording here.

In Mark’s words:


H.R. 302 is a complete and total recognition that drones are not toys – they are airplanes and they will be treated like airplanes.


Friday afternoon the FAA sent out a bulletin addressed to ‘Drone Pilots’:

On October 5, 2018, the President signed the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. The Act establishes new conditions for recreational use of drones and immediately repeals the Special Rule for Model Aircraft.

…The Reauthorization Act cannot be fully implemented immediately…

Updated direction and guidance will be provided as the FAA implements this
new legislation.

This is covered in SEC. 380. TRANSITION LANGUAGE.

(a) REGULATIONS.—…any law described under subsection (b) of this section before the effective date of this Act shall continue in effect until modified or revoked by the Secretary of Transportation…

To show you how news morphs as it travels, Friday Commercial Drone Professional – the closest thing we have to a drone tabloid –  ran with:

BREAKING NEWS: Trump to Sign Drone Shoot-Down Authorisation Bill Today

The bill will now authorise the Government to shoot down threatening drones in a bid to give officials and members of the public increased protection.

Besides the Reauthorization, there were three big pieces of FAA news this week – LAANC, UAS IPP and Enforcement. Plus an excellent interview with retired FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, Big Business, Cyber Risks and Industry Gatherings round out the issue.

THE FAA – LAANC

The FAA approved nine new USS (UAS Service Supplier) for LAANC. According to the press release:

The five-month onboarding process that began in April resulted in nine new LAANC partners – Aeronyde, Airbus, AiRXOS, Altitude Angel, Converge, DJI, KittyHawk, UASidekick and Unifly. The nine join five companies – AirMap, Harris Corp., Project Wing, Skyward and Thales Group – that have already met the technical and legal requirements to provide LAANC Services.

Interesting to note that Altitude Angel is a British company that is playing a prominent role in that airspace, Unifly is Belgian, Airbus is French, Thales is French and DJI is of course Chinese.

Kittyhawk marked the occasion by announcing “A strategic investment from The Travelers Companies, Inc. (NYSE: TRV). The investment will help the company bring unified drone operations to new markets.” According to Commercial Drone Professional, Travelers invested US$3M and added that:

Uniquely, Travelers is an existing Kittyhawk customer and, since 2016, has used Kittyhawk’s software to become the nation’s largest insurance drone fleet operator, with over 600 drone operators.


As of InterDrone 2018, there had been 13,000 requests for LAANC airspace authorizations.


Is 13,000 for a brand new service that was just completing a national rollout at the time a lot? Or based on the howling that is interpreted as representing demand for authorizations, a little? Let me know if 13,000 exceeds your expectations.

Whatever the answer, the FAA is forging ahead. The press release notes that “The FAA next year will accept applications from parties interested in becoming LAANC service providers from January 7 to February 8 and from July 8 to August 9.

This is an interesting strategy on the FAA’s part. While in theory it could increase utilization, in IT terms it means more and more companies with access to the code who need to be in compliance. The bigger the installed base, the greater the pressure on uptime, version control and all the other intricacies of running a widely available service with mission-critical implications.

I would be remiss if I didn’t note that the decision to make DJI a USS provider has raised eyebrows in the national security community. If you don’t get the concern, there is a whole section on CYBER RISKS further on. I will also refer you to an article by Maj. Gen. Jim Poss (USAF Ret) The Dark Side of Detect and Avoid which looks at just how easy it is to use sUAS to gather critical data.

The fact is that we live in a vulnerable world.

For me the bigger question is, what is the business case for being a USS provider?

Several companies have told me that they think it is important to provide a fully branded, integrated end user experience. Subscribers to LAANC USS apps will be able to stay in their app, instead of linking from their flight management app to a USS provider which is currently the most common implementation. Others have told me that they are applying for USS simply because they think that LAANC will become a checklist item for mission planning software.

Altitude Angel’s press release is also revealing.

“Our clients are increasingly looking for a common operating procedure across their global organizations in order to simplify oversight and reduce training time,” says Paul Rigby, Co-founder and CEO of Consortiq LLC, creators of professional logbook solution CQNet and users of Altitude Angel’s developer platform. “Utilizing Altitude Angel’s standard global flight authorization API enables us to provide turnkey flight authorisation in any country connected to Altitude Angel, simplifying the process of offering authorizations directly to our clients.”

But I don’t think that looks far enough forward, nor is it a reason for the biggest companies in the aerospace business to invest. It’s more of a ground floor strategy.

The FAA is positioning LAANC as the “Foundation for developing the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management System (UTM).

Through that lens, I think that we are seeing the birth of independent private networks that will differentiate by offering unique features and services beyond the limited, soon to be commodity role of facilitating clearances for controlled airspace.

One clue in H.R. 302 is SEC. 376. PLAN FOR FULL OPERATIONAL CAPABILITY OF UNMANNED AIRCRAFT SYSTEMS TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT.

Under (c) IMPLEMENTATION PLAN CONTENTS

(F) the potential for UTM services to manage unmanned aircraft systems carrying either cargo, payload, or passengers, weighing more than 55 pounds, and operating at altitudes higher than 400 feet above ground level; [i.e. UAS in
the NAS].

In a press release, Harrison Wolf, Drone Project Lead, World Economic Forum commented that:

“Major changes to the management of the US airspace were approved… setting the stage for the most dramatic shift in oversight since the creation of the FAA… Unmanned Traffic Management is created and managed by private
companies autonomously.


This sets a precedent for a transition to private management of national airspace. 


It will be a slow process, but it’s where the sector is headed over the next
ten years.

THE FAA – UAS IPP

screen grab courtesy Vigilant Aerospace

The first UAS IPP waiver for flight over people was authorized, took to the skies and landed safely. Miriam McNabb has the story in DroneLife.com, ParaZero and Botlink Prove the Case for Flight Over People – This Weekend’s Victory Started with the Tailgating.

This weekend’s big game between North Dakota State University (NDSU) and South Dakota State University (SDSU) provided a major victory for the drone industry – before the game began.

North Dakota drone services and software provider Botlink was granted a waiver to fly a DJI Phantom 4 equipped with drone safety company ParaZero‘s SafeAir System over the crowds at the tailgating event prior to the game in the Fargo Dome.  The drone flew multiple times over the stadium’s parking lots, providing real-time data to law enforcement so that they could better manage traffic and safety at the event.  The footage was also shown during the game, giving fans a new perspective on the pre-game party. 

The team used Vigilant Aerospace’s FlightHorizon software to monitor the airspace. Congratulations to all.

THE FAA – ENFORCEMENT

This week Morning Transportation reported:

NO MORE MR. NICE GUY: FAA has told employees to pass any case of a drone pilot getting in the way of wildfire fighters, law enforcement or medical teams onto the agency’s chief counsel. … If FAA finds out that a drone pilot “knowingly or recklessly” interfered with an emergency response, it will “generally” pursue a $15,000 to $20,000 fine — the maximum allowed by law.

I am not sure if a specific event or events prompted this change of heart. And it seems a bit premature to correlate it to H.R. 302 since the announcement predates it. So you know, there are at least three sections in 302 that address the issue and SEC. 384. UNSAFE OPERATION OF UNMANNED AIRCRAFT mandates a
prison term.


Of course, the essential problem remains… catching the perp.


2017 Balloon Fiesta – photo courtesy KrisNM CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

On that subject, I had an interesting exchange with DJI’s Corporate Communications Director Adam Lisberg, who knowing that I live in New Mexico wrote to tell me “I’ll be in Albuquerque on Thursday and Friday – the International Balloon Fiesta is using our AeroScope Remote ID system to monitor and track any drones during the event. I’ll be there talking it up to media and learning about how the organizers and police use it. Come on down.”

If you haven’t heard of our world-famous Fiesta, this is a big, week-long event with some 425 – 450 balloons from around the world, the majority of which lift off together every morning. (Fun fact: balloons can only fly when the air is cool, so it’s a dawn and very rarely a dusk operation.)

I bring it up because while AeroScope has its detractors, statistically somewhere between 70-80% of the drones that are likely to be in the area violating the TFR will be DJI’s that are squawking and so will be visible to the people securing
the airspace.

While it is not a perfect solution (no such thing actually exists) consider the alternatives. How many radars and RFID readers would it take to secure this space? And you still wouldn’t know who the operator is… I get all the issues and concerns, but we can move forward more quickly if we can find a way to leverage the installed base.

FAA – AN INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL HUERTA

graphic from Bard College

A big shout out to Arthur Holland Michel at the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College for Interview: Michael Huerta. If you are very new to the industry, Michael Huerta was the FAA Administrator until his retirement in January 2018. On his watch the FAA implemented 333, the initial Christmas registration program, Part 107 and stood up the DAC.


…What you need to be focused on is formulating clarity around what, exactly, is the problem you’re trying to solve. What’s the policy question you need answered? Focus more on that and less on solutions. The solutions will present themselves.


It is the first interview I have seen with Mr. Huerta since he retired, and it does
not disappoint.

BIG BUSINESS

photo courtesy Robotic Skies

Here’s another Albuquerque story. This week, Boeing announced that:

Boeing [NYSE: BA] and its subsidiaries Jeppesen and Aviall have joined with Robotic Skies, a leading commercial unmanned aircraft system (UAS) support services provider, to develop and deliver industry-leading supply chain management and optimization, analytics, and maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) services for the commercial and civil UAS markets.

Brad Hayden, the founder and CEO of Robotic Skies grew up in the aircraft maintenance business which is regulated by the FAA under Part 145. Raised with the understanding that anything that flies needs maintenance, he founded Robotic Skies. As Part 145 is the de facto standard for maintenance work, he then assembled a global network of 150 certified shops to provide maintenance.

It’s a great idea because it serves the needs of two distinct groups of customers. It enables a growing list of manufacturers to offer a global service network to which they only have to add training and spares. Besides being much faster and less expensive to roll out, this approach eliminates the need to ship product back to the mother ship. Which further reduces costs and more importantly, gets the customer back in the air faster.

From the enterprise side, it means that a company can write a maintenance SOP, ensure that all of their units are up to date and in the case of a global fleet, also be assured that they are in compliance with local rules.

CYBER RISKS

I just finished an excellent new book, The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age by New York Times national security correspondent David Sanger. If you remember the stories of Iranian centrifuges spinning out of control and NK missiles failing at launch, you know the beginnings of the tale – a piece of skulduggery called Project Olympic Games worthy of George Smiley.

Here is a brief synopsis – it helped me to connect the dots to the implications for UAS – and to our elections:

The Perfect Weapon is the startling inside story of how the rise of cyberweapons transformed geopolitics like nothing since the invention of the atomic bomb. Cheap to acquire, easy to deny, and usable for a variety of malicious purposes—from crippling infrastructure to sowing discord and doubt—cyber is now the weapon of choice for democracies, dictators, and terrorists.

Expanding on the theme, here is a title that I didn’t expect to find in DefenseOne, What Taylor Swift Teaches Us About Online War:

If “CyberWar” is about hacking networks, “LikeWar” is about hacking the people on the networks, driving ideas viral through a mix of “likes” and lies. And in these battles for virality, which can generate real-world power, generating a sense of authenticity has become an important milestone for any online operation, be it selling an album, a political campaign, or an information warfare operation designed to cause your enemies army to run away (as in the #AllEyesOnISIS operation). 

As you would expect, it explores Trump’s use of his Twitter account. What you might not expect is that it explores how ISIS uses social media – connect the dots to UAS.

Bloomberg Businessweek got a tremendous amount of attention this week with their story, The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies

Since the implants were small, the amount of code they contained was small as well. But they were capable of doing two very important things: telling the device to communicate with one of several anonymous computers elsewhere on the internet that were loaded with more complex code; and preparing the device’s operating system to accept this new code. The illicit chips could do all this because they were connected to the baseboard management controller, a kind of superchip that administrators use to remotely log in to problematic servers, giving them access to the most sensitive code even on machines that have crashed or are turned off.


The policy of keeping exploits and intrusions under wraps as a core principle of national security is a major theme of The Perfect Weapon


There are of course two sides to most stories, and many things go better with a grain of salt. GeekWire offers Amazon Web Services, Apple Dispute Report That China Placed Spy Chips in Some of Their Servers. Tech Crunch headlined Bloomberg’s Spy Chip Story Reveals the Murky World of National Security Reporting.

Naturally, people are skeptical of this “spy chip” story. On one side you have Bloomberg’s decades-long stellar reputation and reporting acumen, a thoroughly researched story citing more than a dozen sources — some inside the government and out — and presenting enough evidence to present a convincing case.

On the other, the sources are anonymous — likely because the information they shared wasn’t theirs to share or it was classified, putting sources in risk of
legal jeopardy. 

That puts the onus on the reader to judge Bloomberg’s reporting. Reporters can publish the truth all they want, but ultimately it’s down to the reader to believe it
or not.

For a completely different perspective, consider the companion story in Bloomberg Opinion, Computer Spies Hacked Reality (wow!) which wonders if it is securities fraud if the companies were sworn to secrecy and thus have to deny it because of national security. One consistent theme is how few people within a company like Apple or Amazon would even know…

For a fast paced take on how this could all play out that will speed you through your next trip, it’s tough to beat Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War which has even been reviewed on the CIA website.

INDUSTRY GATHERINGS

Thanks to DroneLife.com for the shout out, InterDrone Adds Diversity, Experience, and Scope with New Members to Its Advisory Board. Nice to be in such
good company.

The 2,350 attendees from all 50 states and 40 countries are giving props to Commercial UAV Expo Americas, their biggest show to date. Congrats to Lisa M, Lisa E, WW, Jeremiah, Lee and all of the hardworking Diversified team.

Program cover

Finally, I am honored to have been invited to speak at The DRONE FESTIVAL OF INDIA 2018, India’s largest UAV Commercial Drone Conference. Follow the link or contact Vignesh Santhanam, the President of the Drone Federation of India to
learn more.

Thank you for reading and for sharing. Back issues of Dronin’ On are here.

best,
ck

Christopher Korody
Editor and Publisher
chris@dronebusiness.center
follow me @dronewriter