First Anniversary issue of Dronin' On 04.22.17
Spring Fling

Hi all –

Sunday, April 23rd will mark one year that I have been writing Dronin’ On. That makes this the First Anniversary Issue. I’d like to thank each of you for your interest, your support and your words of encouragement. I’ve very much enjoyed getting to know many of you, and I love hearing that Dronin’ On is a must read and that you depend on it to keep abreast of the industry. It’s a thrill to be creating the future together.

Kevin Morris of the FAA was kind enough to provide me with the most recent figures on their drone activities.

The headline is that as of March 31st, 39,041 Remote Pilot Certificates have been issued. 24,588 passed the Part 107 knowledge exam with a very high pass rate of 91%. Obviously, the teaching community is doing a great job. Hopefully, we are done with the discussion about dumbing down the test.

That means that 14,453 came in through Part 61 (IACRA). This is the first time we’ve seen the 107/Part 61ratio flip (and the last time). It is significant because it means that new people are coming into the industry.

This week The Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Transportation announced that it will be auditing the FAA on its “approval and oversight processes” for waivers issued under the Part 107.

According to a recent memorandum from the OIG, the audit will assess the agency’s processes for granting waivers and its “risk-based oversight” for entities that do have waivers.

In case you’re wondering, to date the FAA has issued 87 airspace waivers (less then 10% of petitions) and received 2,775 waiver requests.

  • 66% of these are for night operations,
  • 36% for operations over people (this likely includes all the 333 film work)
  • 20% BVLOS,
  • 10% Operations from a moving vehicle,
  • 10% Operational Limitation – Altitude

Yes, it adds up to more than 100%. No word about how many have been granted.

To put this in context, you’ll want to read Jeremiah Karpowicz’s interview in CUAV News with Jason Snead and John-Michael Seibler, the point guys on drones for the Heritage Foundation. The article is entitled Enacting Sensible Drone Regulation on a Federal and Local Level.

Here’s the punchline. “If we wait for something more serious to happen, we risk overreacting in the heat of the moment. It would be better to take the time now to develop a well thought out approach to drones, one that allows for industry innovation, respects the sovereignty of states and the interests of local governments and private landowners, and grants the federal government sufficient regulatory power to ensure safety in the national airspace. Congress has just such an opportunity, in the form of the upcoming FAA reauthorization.” September 2017 or the FAA runs out of money. Uh huh.

Along the lines of not waiting for something to happen, Betsy Lillian reports that the Department of Homeland Security has announced that they are establishing a “Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Demonstration Range Facility” to support homeland security operations and training at Mississippi State University.

Since the article made no mention of the ASSURE UAS Center of Excellence which is headquartered at MSU, I checked in with Executive Director Marty Rogers. Marty replied that “I’m sure ASSURE was a consideration in the decision, but the basis for selection was more facilities and airspace based.  One thing that might be of interest is how Mississippi has, in a very short period of time, moved to a leadership position in UAS research. Mississippi was also very recently added as a formal UAS Test site.” Marty has a lot of news coming – I look forward to catching up with him at AUVSI. And to congratulating him on ASSURE’S
second anniversary. reports that in two days 30 flights into Chengdu were disrupted by drones. “Wang Ya’nan, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the monthly magazine Aerospace Knowledge, said it is a global headache to arrest the people involved under current circumstances.” Good to know we are all in this together.

More interesting was this tidbit tucked away in the article. “China’s drone market has been experiencing a boost lately, with a compound annual growth rate of 122.4 percent, according to market research firm International Data Corp. China’s civil aerial photography drone shipments are expected to reach 5.5 million by 2020, with consumer level drones exceeding 3 million.”

In fact, this number is probably low. At the end of March, total US drone registrations were 780,799. (Just under 62,000 commercial drones are included in that number.) Colin Snow at Skylogic Research told me that he estimates that there are 1.725 million units (over 250gm) in the US market now – climbing to 2.7M by year end. That puts compliance at about 45%. Given the probability of serial drone owners, that’s probably better than it looks.

A lot of provocative content this week. Mike Blades, the Senior Industry Analyst at Frost&Sullivan shared his Analysis of the Global Commercial UAS Market to 2020. This is a great overview of where we are and where we’re going. His Takeaways slide is awesome. It’s a rare chance to see the big bucks work that Mike puts out for his corporate clients.

Ian Smith launched his quarterly Drone Industry Review on his Podcast. It’s a well written, fast moving round up. I love his timeline transcript which lets you quickly get to topics of interest. Also from Ian is his interview with Forbes’ Ryan Mac called Drones Falling Out Of The Sky which is “The story behind GoPro’s harrowing entry into the global drone market.” Done with a nod to classic radio technique, this is great storytelling.

Humanitarian Robotics, Murphy’s Law and What To Do About It is by Dr. Patrick Meier writing in his blog iRevolution. It’s a cautionary tale and an excellent reminder that our flying robots are fragile creatures that require considerable care to keep airborne.

A big shout-out for Steve Ballmer and his new website which organizes more than 60 government data sources into a stunning, easy to navigate website. CO.Design has an in-depth backgrounder. “Ballmer hopes that with a commitment to invest a few million dollars a year into the initiative, USAFacts won’t simply be a compendium for information, but a way to spur fact-based dialog in an ever-more partisan political climate.”

There is a ton of bomb and boom stuff this week, starting with a fascinating podcast from the Modern War Institute called Robots, Artificial Intelligence, and the Future of War. “How can military forces harness innovations that come less and less frequently from traditional sources and increasingly from communities like hackers, makers, and DIYers with little existing connection to governments
and militaries

For instance, partnering with someone who is taking a $60 drone and adding AI to it in their garage “Which could cause real problems for us on the battlefield…” How about “Predict, interdict and end conflict before it starts.” This is a mind-blowing look at how decentralized innovation has become. I tweeted “A stunning think into the future.”

Gaining some traction since it was published is Navy to Demo ‘Motley Crew’ Collaborative Drone Attack. “The next big thing for unmanned naval aviation is a group of unmanned aerial systems that can share information and then assign tasks and make strategic targeting decisions based on available intelligence.”

Motherboard offers up How Not to Get Killed By a Drone, According to the US Army. The news is not great. “Small units operating in and around combat areas should assume they are being observed by the enemy and not assume they are under the umbrella (protection) of air and missile defense units.”

Want a firsthand look? Witnessing an ISIS Drone Attack is a video by Ben C. Solomon who was embedded with Iraqi special forces on the front lines in Mosul.

Finally an Eye Candy Tag Award winner – not flashy, not shot by a drone but a sentimental farewell – the last official flight of the Grumman F-14 Tomcat which was retired from the USN’s active fleet in 2006. Back in the day I had the pleasure of working for Grumman and visiting the assembly line on Long Island. This is where I first heard “Any landing you walk away from is a good landing.” Works just as well for drones.

It’s a nice video but the Tomcat deserves a proper Hollywood send-off. Here is Danger Zone.

Thank you for reading and for sharing. My goal for the coming year is to double my readership so your referrals and recommendations are greatly appreciated. An entire year of back issues of Dronin’ On is available here.


Christopher Korody
follow me @dronewriter