In appreciation of all those who serve

‘Divided We Fall’ is a hell of a title for Veterans Day weekend. That’s not what they fought, bled or died for.


Hi all –

Well, the dust is settling from the week’s festivities – sorta. We’ll take a look at the impact on the Hill, the FAA, CUAS, Smart Stuff, State of the Industry, Parting Shots and some Eye Candy. But first, Opinion.

OPINION

There were no winners this week – just a guarantee for worse of the same. Of the many opinions, commentaries and analyses I read this week I found these two pieces to be particularly provocative, particularly binary in their outlook and worthy of your attention.

The Economist summed it up succinctly, The Mid-Terms Produce a Divided Government for a Divided Country:

In a country where one chamber of the legislature is based on population and the other on territory, this division is a recipe for gridlock, poor governance and, eventually, disenchantment with the political system itself… 

I was also very much taken by a sober look from Defense One, America’s Place in the World Was on the Ballot. It Lost.

Some call for keeping the U.S. fighting in all corners of the earth, and some call for pulling U.S. troops home from great swaths of the earth’s surface, leaving terrorist homelands to their regional vices. There is a sense that America, once the closest thing to an end-of-history shining city on the hill, is now rapidly losing its standing. 

THE HILL

As I go to press, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) is in a recount – it is not clear if he will be back for a fourth term. Nelson is the Ranking Member of the Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation and together with Committee Chairman Sen. John Thune (R-SD) played a leading role in getting the 2018 FAA Reauthorization passed. Thune is slated to move up to the Whip position, meaning that there could very well be both a new Chair and a new Ranking member.

Meanwhile over on the House side, Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-OR) who has been the Ranking Member is expected to take over as the Chairman of the Transportation Committee. You might remember that DeFazio authored Amendment 136 in H.R. 4 to do away with 336. I have to think that’s good for the industry.

THE FAA

Here’s why all this matters. You might remember that I recently suggested that Acting Administrator Dan Elwell has more than proven his mettle and should be given the top job. Turns out there are people who didn’t get the memo…

Morning Transportation reports that:

DICKSON FOR FAA ADMINISTRATOR? Steve Dickson, previously senior vice president of global flight operations at Delta Air Lines, looks to be the front-runner to get the nod for FAA administrator — but no decision has been finalized.”


Dan Elwell, the agency’s acting administrator, has withdrawn his bid for the job “because there was no consensus for his candidacy.”


I don’t know whether you call that ‘real politik’ or self respect. Either way, I admire it. In case you are wondering, the FAA Administrator is a “PAS”, a Presidential Appointment requiring the “advice and consent”, i.e confirmation, by the Senate.

Next, a ‘nothing good about it’ article that Vic Moss wrote and posted on
Facebook saying:

Please share this. I want people in charge at the FAA and DOJ to see this. Maybe it will light a fire. Because, it’s not just a fluff piece. I truly believe someone is going
to die
.

Who Is Going to Die First?

It’s now common for a forum post about being threatened to be shot down pop up every few weeks. It’s even weekly at times. sUAS operators frequently have their aircraft shot at and shot down.  And they themselves are frequently threatened. And at times those threats carry through to physical violence.

So Who’s to Blame? the FAA, the DOJ or Both?

I’d say first and foremost, it has to lie at the feet of the FAA. Yes, I know they are only an educational and regulatory agency. But when something happens, it’s up to them to refer that incident to one of the DOJ alphabet agencies for follow up and prosecution. Without that referral, the incident goes nowhere.

By now we can all hum along – local LE points at the FAA. The FAA points at local LE. Nobody does nuthin’. Vic’s article is extremely well documented. Read the article, RPICs are now carrying. Of course, now that a dozen people a week are getting mowed down, you have to wonder if anyone cares about an RPIC and his VO. You could not ask for a better example of the great divide.

report cover – click to open

I had the pleasure of doing a panel with Tony Zakel, Deputy Assistant Inspector General of Aviation Audits for the DOT at InterDrone this year. Among the things he discussed was an audit the OIG was working on of the FAA’s approval and oversight process for UAS waivers. He promised to send it along when it was released. You can download the report here.

There’s plenty to chew on but a few things stand out. First the obvious challenges of splitting the process between the Air Traffic Organization (ATO) and Flight Standards Service (AFS), and within each organization, between the headquarters function and the towers (field).

As of May 11, only 9.5% of all waivers were approved.  ATO, in particular, is way behind with managers blaming rules, complexity and staffing shortages.

Under the heading FAA’s Inspection Guidance Is Limited we find that:

FAA is not requiring inspections in part because, according to Agency leadership, small UAS are generally considered low-risk operations as compared to other types of aircraft in the NAS and should be considered low-priority work for
field inspectors.

And later:

FAA has not yet collected sufficient inspection data needed to identify risks and plan surveillance… While FAA inspectors have recorded results of their investigations of UAS complaints, more than 1 year after FAA issued the rule we identified only 131 records in FAA’s database that are coded as UAS surveillance activities nationwide, and only about 10 percent of those activities were completed on a waiver holder. In addition, while there are 78 different field offices nationwide, nearly three-quarters of the inspections were conducted by just four field offices.

One reason the FAA gives for this is that The FAA Lacks Key Operator Data That Would Enhance Oversight. The recent availability of LAANC data, which provides specific operator locations is reflected Travis Fox’s recent guest post, “Ramp Checks” and Best Practices: Notes from the Drone Journalism Leadership Summit. Or maybe they just got hit by the four offices.

The result? OIG confirms the urban myth:

… Frustration with a lack of Agency timeliness and responsiveness could increase the frequency that operators bypass the FAA waiver and authorization process altogether. In other words, operators may chance flying in airspace with manned aircraft without FAA’s approval.


Our analysis of FAA records and interviews with operators shows this is already occurring.


At the very end, under Agency Comments and OIG Response I found this pearl.

FAA disagreed with our conclusion that the Agency’s ability to approve certain waivers is impacted because of limited information and samples provided to applicants. FAA stated that it does not believe that providing sample mitigations to applicants to speed its review of waivers is appropriate…

Congress has also recognized the lack of guidance to applicants as an issue and has directed the Agency in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 to publish a sample of approved safety justifications for waivers and airspace authorizations. [Section 352 Part 107 Transparency and Technology Improvements]

Avionics International offers up an interesting example of all the new tech that the FAA is being asked to regulate, Industry: We Must Accommodate Commercial Space in the NAS — For Now:

Melissa Rudinger is the VP of government affairs for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). She said the dynamic management of airspace to avoid closing it down for hours at a time is a big issue for pilots.

“Right now, we’re accommodating commercial space launches — and I think that’s appropriate, as a new technology, just like UAS — but the goal should be to change that in the next decade or so,” she said. “I don’t think we should look at commercial space any differently than we look at any other commercial entity, including UAS — they’re just another user.”

CUAS

screen grab from Raytheon posting on YouTube – click to watch

I seldom offer guarantees, but I am making an exception and going all in. This is a ‘must see’ video from Raytheon, Swarm Killer: Raytheon’s Mobile Laser Defense System. Call Of Duty comes to the front lines. Positively kinetic. Spoiler alert – you will want a stealth grey quad…

And now on to the entirely predictable result of opening Pandora’s proverbial box, New Drone-Jamming Authority Creates Challenges for DHS:

TAKING IT SLOW: It seems like the ink just dried on the FAA reauthorization, but DHS is already assessing how best to implement new counterdrone authorities granted to it under the law. The department is examining how and when to deploy possibly risky radio jamming tech in populated areas, among other top considerations. DHS officials said that blocking radio communications to errant drones in large cities, or even more rural areas where wireless device use is widespread, could cause major disruptions. Vetting those risks will require interagency discussions with the FAA and FCC, they said.

Talk about promises broken. Go back and look at the testimony in the Is This Really All issue and the Walk & Chew Gum issue.

2018 FIFA World Cup – look at that roof – photo John Perry CC2

Sputnik News breathed a sigh of relief, Russian, Foreign Intelligence Prevented 2018 World Cup Terror Attack:

Alexander Bortnikov, the head of the country’s Federal Security Service (FSB), specified that the FSB had suppressed terrorists’ attempts to carry out attacks using drones during the tournament.

“The FSB bodies… took all the necessary measures for identifying and suppressing terrorists’ attempts to use air drones during the FIFA World Cup that was held in Russia,” he said.

Bortnikov specified that such attempts had been identified not only during the World Cup, but during the preparations for and holding of other “large-scale political and sports events.” 

He added that it was necessary to immediately start formulating legal and regulatory framework for drones use. [sic]

Tufts Now has a story about their alum and frequent Dronin’ On contributor, David Kovar, Stalking the Drones. This is a fun story:

One of the first tests of Kovar’s emerging ideas came from Erik Modisett, who works for the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. Modisett’s agents had intercepted a drug-running drone; could Kovar learn anything from it?

By that time, Kovar had already developed software to analyze data in autonomous vehicles like drones, and he set to work. “We were able to tell them that it wasn’t just this one flight,” Kovar said. The people running the drone “had been doing this for several months, and we found places they were flying, and one was a house where they were doing tests of the drone. We said, you might want to go to
that house.”

With that for prelude, you might wonder how a story in Wine Spectator, Wine Fest Drone Show Ends in Wine Fest Drones Crashing Out of Sky, ends up in a section on CUAS. Conspiracy theory of course…

It began as a festive display to delight all assembled: Huge LED formations of fanciful wine bottles and Champagne flutes lighting up the sky in a drone show over Victoria Harbor at last week’s Hong Kong Wine and Dine Festival. But the show, and 46 drones, came to an abrupt end when said drones unexpectedly made a plummet-out-of-the-sky formation into the water.

It’s still not certain exactly what caused the drones to fritz during their third act, though local publications are blaming GPS interference, with some speculating that the signal was intentionally jammed.

SMART STUFF

Some AI, some IoT.

From Thomas E. Sowers, an attorney writing for the Berman, Fink, Van Horn blog comes Internet of Things: California Passes Legislation on Connected Devices.

On September 28th, California passed the first law in the country designed to address the security of Internet-connected devices, more commonly known as the Internet of Things (IoT). The law bans the use of default passwords on Internet-connected devices sold in the state and requires manufacturers to use strong passwords.  

The law also adds additional security to Internet-connected devices by obligating manufacturers to provide a security feature “that requires a user to generate a new means of authentication before access is granted to the device for the first time.” 

In June, California passed the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), a statute that grants California residents specific rights on how their personal data can be stored, accessed, sold and deleted.  The CCPA also goes into effect on
January 1, 2020.

I am assuming that these laws will apply to both recreational and commercial drones. If so, this is a going to be a really big deal.

There is an interesting two-part piece from Laurin Mills, the co-leader of the Intellectual Property team at LeClair Ryan, Airplanes and Artificial Intelligence Part 1: What Is It and How Is It Used? In this post Laurin presents a comprehensive list of ways that machine learning can be applied in aviation. Then in Airplanes and Artificial Intelligence Part II he asks and briefly answers What Are The Legal Issues? No surprise but still eye-opening:


The big immediate issues in aviation are going to be: (1) theft of customized AI algorithms by competitors, cyber criminals, or nation states; (2) liability for accidents involving AI or AVT; and (3) liability for privacy violations. 


From Avionics International a fascinating interview with senior research engineer Brian Wolford, The Unmanned Future at Rockwell Collins’ Advanced Technology Center. One of many forward-looking insights:

“How do you use UAVs within regular, manned airspace?” And, “How do you create new missions and new mission profiles for UAVs?” So without being able to access regular airspace, the UAVs are kind of locked up in either military airspace or predefined airspace volumes. If you can block that, then you can create all sorts of certified and commercial use cases for those UAVs. It makes it so that you can do things like inspection profiles for infrastructure and then other things that you can’t even imagine right now.

STATE OF THE INDUSTRY

Airware auction notice – 360 lots

Industry pioneer Airware came to an ignominious end when their assets were snapped up by French UAS leader Delair. It’s the kind of moment that leads some to spirits and others to introspection. Here’s a smattering.

Forbes has After Airware’s Demise, Consolidation Looms For The Commercial Drone Industry. The none too surprising premise:

Airware is only the beginning of the consolidation of the industry, which will force a wave of mergers and bankruptcies. If the combination of financing, prestigious backers and blue-chip customers would not work for Airware, then most of the venture capital startups, which have much less, promise to face serious problems in coming months and years. 

Of course, one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor – Israeli startup Airobotics just grabbed headlines with a $30M Series D round bringing their total to $101M for their automated industrial drones. From the press release:

Airobotics’ automated solution represents the next generation of drone operations, overtaking standard piloted services which are expensive, inaccurate and not always available.

Seriously? Another tech company thinking they are going to bowl over the FAA.

Which leads me to Jonathan Rupprecht’s first article for Forbes, Uber’s Drone Delivery Dreams Face Harsh Legal And Economic Realities:

There are two important caveats about using drones for delivery: 1) law and safety drive the economics of the aviation industry and 2) operational possibility does not equal operational profitability.

Citing growing paranoia, CAPE, a software developer and UAS IPP partner with San Diego, announced a National Study: Americans Ready to Embrace Drones for Public Safety. Pay attention to the second part:

…While Americans are ready to embrace drones for public safety, they lack the education needed to drive widespread support and adoption in the U.S.

PARTING SHOTS

screen grab from YouTube – circle on drone added for emphasis – click to watch

I want to leave you with two stories from The Atlantic. (Go LPJ)

The Problem Behind a Viral Video of a Persistent Baby Bear: What appears to be a life-affirming triumph is really a cautionary tale about drones and wildlife.

I have been railing about the frequently negative impact of drones on wildlife for years – this one takes the cake. Please notice the circle highlighting the drone and where the bears are looking… The story has been widely covered, the video went viral and generated over a million views. The copyright owner, ViralHog has been pulling it down from sites that are critical of what took place so here is the
YouTube link.

Pitched as a “go little bear, yes you can” story we get to:

When biologists started watching the video, they saw a very different story.

“I found it really hard to watch,” says Sophie Gilbert, an ecologist at the University of Idaho who studies, among other things, how drones affect wildlife. “It showed a pretty stark lack of understanding from the drone operator of the effects that his actions were having on the bears.”

People get it. Read the comments on YouTube: Wow what a piece of shit. From almost separating a cub from it’s mother and then deciding to sell it to internet video licensing company. Whoever took this video, shame on you.

The second one is an existential question. Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the Internet is doing to our brains. Spoiler alert – if you have a hard time staying focused on lengthy articles like this one, then yeah –there might be grounds
for concern.

EYE CANDY

Sublime Green – director Saam Gabbay for Petrolicious – click to watch

Feeling like we all need a treat about now. One of my favorite directors is an old friend from LA, Saam Gabbay. He’s been doing the drone thing a long time. I stumbled across this video he did for his client Petrolicious, and their sponsor Turtle Wax. Saam calls it Sublime Green – it’s a story about a man and his 1969 Charger. If you are a car person pull up the popcorn and the Kleenex. If you are drone person there are some very interesting shots that support the story in unexpected ways. Check out the Aerials under Photography on his website too.

Thanks 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