The Give A Hoot issue of Dronin' On 10.21.17
The Vantage Robotics Snap UAS that CNN will fly

Hi all –

Another big week at the FAA and for the industry. The hits keep coming…

The first piece of news is bittersweet so I am running it way above the fold. Few people have done as much for the industry as Major General Marke F. “Hoot” Gibson (Ret.) who has served as the Senior Advisor on Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration to the Deputy Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Hoot has been a tireless, friendly face for the FAA, attending conferences, listening hard and making a lot of stuff happen behind
the scenes.

Time to give it up for Hoot because he is moving on to be the CEO of Nuair Alliance. According to the press release:

Gibson will lead NUAIR’s oversight of UAS testing being conducted in New York, Massachusetts and Michigan and a $30 million investment by New York State to build a 50-mile UTM Corridor and put the region at the forefront of UAS research and development.

I spent some time talking with Hoot about this at Drone World Expo. It’s a great opportunity for him, for the project and for all of us. Enjoy what will be his last UAS conference appearances at Commercial UAV Expo Americas next week, and then Mobility Unmanned:  Air, Land and Sea. When you see him, please be sure to
say thanks.

THE FAA

At the March 2017 FAA UAS Symposium, the Low Altitude Authorization Notification Capability (LAANC) was introduced and the FAA issued requests for mapping information to some 200 airports.

So color me bewildered with AOPA.org’s story FAA Seeks ‘Emergency’ Action
on Drones
.

“In a Federal Register notice published Oct. 11, the FAA sought from the White House Office of Management and Budget authority to put electronic authorization of drone flights in controlled airspace on a fast track.

Due to the pressing safety consideration of reducing safety reports due to non-compliant UAS operations, the FAA cannot wait the normal 90 days of public comment,” the agency stated in the Federal Register notice Oct. 11. “Therefore, FAA is requesting (Office of Management and Budget) approval of this collection of information 7 days after publication of this Notice in the Federal Register.”

The article notes that “The FAA expects LAANC will reduce “non-compliant” operations by at least 30 percent, cutting the number of reported safety incidents by 450 in the coming six months.”

BloombergTechnology adds:

Soaring demand for drone flights made possible by regulations finalized last year have created a backlog of requests to the FAA and have become a nuisance to the agency’s air-traffic controllers, who often receive direct telephone requests to operate the craft.

“These calls create distractions for air traffic control management,” the agency said in the Federal Register notice this week.

Jonathan Rupprecht’s Drone Law Blog has a new post, FAA’s LAANC System-(Low Altitude Authorization & Notification Capability) which offers up an in-depth dive. He shares my skepticism [emphasis is his]:

LAANC does NOT tell us if it fixed the problem it is attempting to alleviate. Is the drone sighting report the FAA released going to identify and take out of the total number the authorized flights?  The FAA’s Federal Register post says LAANC is attempting to make things safer while citing the inflated drone sighting numbers. That’s funny.  

The FAA gave us some big numbers without indicating how many of these “sighting” were lawful or not. What is the logical conclusion? 

The FAA just cited bad data as the justification for the LAANC system. 

As for skipping the public comment process… Betsy Lillian points out that there is an opportunity for comment in her article, FAA Looks to Dramatically Speed Up UAS Airspace Authorization.

According to UnmannedAirspace.info, LAANC will be rolled out “Starting with Cincinnati International Airport (CVG), Reno (RNO), San Jose (SJC), and Lincoln (LNK), among others. The FAA has said that it will include 49 airports by the end of the year, with more going live by early 2018.”

There will be around a dozen TPPs (Third Party Providers) of whom Airmap and Skyward are the most visible. Per the FAA, the TPPs “Will provide Notification and Authorization communication services on behalf of the FAA.” Effectively they are the intermediaries between sUAS operators and air traffic control. I am sure this is really fun to do, but how any of this gets paid for remains as unclear as it was the last time I asked the question.

Not everyone is hopelessly impressed. I was speaking with a senior marketing executive who described the hype as misleading adding that “The FAA LAANC is merely a trial/ closed beta test of their API, rolled out in just a few locations that only a few companies were invited to participate in.” Of course from tiny
acorns etc.

Given the “emergency,” which smacks a great deal of the ‘cry wolf’ approach that netted us the ill-fated Christmas registration program, I feel obliged to point out that only three of 49 airports participating in the initial evaluation are Class B – 40 of the 49 are Class E…This despite the fact that the FAA’s own statistics clearly demonstrate that the great majority of sightings, close calls and near misses occur in our largest metro airspaces. I know, they’ll get there – or not.

Congratulations are in order to CNN which has secured the first waiver for untethered flight over people. If you are wondering why them, a little context might be helpful.

  • CNN was one of the first three companies to be named to the FAA Pathfinder initiative in 2015.
  • They got the very first waiver for flight over people using a tethered drone last August when Part 107 was announced.
  • They have been deeply involved with the FAA test site at Virginia Tech. (comments here)
  • And I don’t think it hurts that they are represented by Lisa Ellman and the Global UAS Team at Hogan Lovells.

CNN Press Room celebrated with CNN Receives Breakthrough Part 107 Waiver for Operations Over People. Take a close look at the equipment allowed under
the waiver:

The FAA waiver authorizes CNN to operate the Vantage Robotics Snap UAS, a frangible, 1.37-pound aircraft with enclosed rotors that is made of deformable material, over people. 

Despite its small size, the specs indicate that it is a capable aircraft. Key design features are the highly deformable frame and the use of prop guards – both reflect the findings of the ASSURE Ground Collision study. Flights are limited to 150’AGL. But equipment was just one part of getting the waiver:

The “Reasonableness Approach,” under which an applicant’s ability to operate a UAS safely over people is determined based on “the totality of circumstances,” including the operator’s safe history of operations, the safety features of the aircraft, and test data demonstrating that the UAS is safe to operate over people.

Finally, we get to the rumors that have been swirling around since last Friday when Patrick Egan published Be Careful What You Lobby For in sUAS News. The article is loosely based on a letter drafted by AUVSI and signed by 29 very prominent industry stakeholders. The letter references Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios keynote at Drone World Expo where he alluded to great things in the pipeline. Why the letter also referenced the thoroughly debunked US$82B forecast is beyond me.

Monday there was a story in the Wall Street Journal, White House to Test Federal-Local Sharing of Drone Regulation. The subhead read “Administration plans to establish test sites for promoting commercial-drone use by dividing oversight.” The article notes that:

As soon as the next few days, the White House is expected to announce model programs for easing the regulatory logjam on drones, industry officials said.

 Devised by the Office of Science and Technology Policy, according to these officials, the programs would test technical advances and experiment with oversight in limited airspace, for the first time linking Federal Aviation Administration rules with city, county or state requirements. The aim would be to expand uses for unmanned aircraft nationwide.

Tuesday, Morning Transportation ran Drone Pilot Program to Drop Any Day Now.

ANY DAY NOW… The White House is poised to issue an executive order as early as this week (though the timeline has slipped before) creating a pilot program within the FAA to delegate some of the agency’s authority over U.S. airspace so localities can regulate drones. While Washington has so far kept federal preemption over state and local laws for driverless cars, drones have been a different story. Drones can fly far lower than traditional aircraft, creating a whole new set of questions involving safety and privacy.

The fine print: An early version of the plan involved 10 sites being selected using criteria that were never established, and it’s unclear whether the pilot will still be limited that way or whether the FAA will open the door more broadly. It’s also unclear whether the pilot plan will include a sunset provision or will continue in place as long as it’s working. 

So much for the gripping timeline. Not a peep since.

I find this whole thing very interesting.

First of all, who is running this? Because this is really sloppy.

Second and the more vexing issue – on the surface it appears that the White House is ceding control that was given to the FAA by Congress (i.e. may not be theirs to bestow.) Finally there is no doubt that this has the potential to promote the kind of balkanization that the Feinstein bill also threatens to create.

On the other hand, it’s clear that the FAA simply cannot provide enforcement – a local “where they launch and land” approach is the only viable way to move forward and to leverage local enforcement resources. The devil is in the details. We’ll keep a sharp eye on this one – check my Twitter feed @dronewriter
for updates.

THE WORLD

Hot on the heels of a confirmed drone strike over Staten Island, came this story out of Canada about an alleged drone strike on final approach into Quebec. I say alleged, because while there are some dings in the aircraft, unlike the Blackhawk incident no pieces were recovered.

Avionics quoted Marc Garneau, Canada’s Minister of Transport. “This is the first time a drone has hit a commercial aircraft in Canada. I am extremely relieved that the aircraft only sustained minor damage and was able to land safely.”

dronelife.com ran DJI Comments on Drone Collision in Quebec which seems to be about having your cake and eating it too:

On the one hand: “No details of the reported collision have been disclosed, and DJI is unaware whether any of its products may have been involved. DJI drones are programmed by default to fly no higher than 120 meters, and the Quebec City airport is restricted in DJI’s geofencing system.”

And on the other: “DJI discusses its safety approach for Canadian skies in comments delivered last week on Transport Canada’s draft drone regulations, which DJI believes are not aligned with international best practices for encouraging safe and responsible drone use. DJI’s comments may be downloaded at this link.”

There is a thoughtful editorial by Malek Murison in dronelife.com, Collisions: How to Break the Cycle of Conjecture, Fear & Drone Negativity. There are few things that we as an industry need to be more concerned about. I especially like his last subhead and his conclusion:

When Will Drone Manufacturers Commission Their Own Safety Study?

…All should jointly fund a peer-reviewed study. If the results prove that drones aren’t a threat to commercial airliners, we can all go about our business. If they are a threat, perhaps the same manufacturers could alter their designs to appease the public’s concerns. 

Something Patrick Egan has been asking for a long, long time.

USE CASES

Morning Transportation offered up an interesting thought starter which suggests that manned aviation will evolve very much in parallel to unmanned:

A HARD SELL: It will be harder to prove to the aerospace industry that pilotless flying is safe than it will be to win over the public, Boeing’s Mike Sinnett argues. “All main operators grew up in a culture of safety, and we collaborated with pilots, airlines and regulators to create a safe operation,” the vice president of product development told POLITICO Europe’s Cynthia Kroet. “If you’ve never lived in such an environment, it’s easy to create something that can fly autonomously, but it’s not easy to integrate that in a system with the same level of integrity.”

For another good reminder of what we are up against, the LA Times reports that despite very vocal opposition, LAPD Becomes Nation’s Largest Police Department to Test Drones After Oversight Panel Signs Off on Controversial Program.

The Police Commission’s 3-1 vote prompted jeers, cursing and a small protest that spilled into a downtown intersection just outside the LAPD’s glass headquarters…“Mission creep is of course the concern,” said Jim Lafferty of the National Lawyers Guild Los Angeles. “The history of this department is of starting off with supposedly good intentions about the new toys that it gets … only to then get too tempted by what they can do with those toys.” 

Unmanned Systems Technology reports that MQ-9 UAS Supports Firefighting Efforts in Northern California. The guys and gals in the California Air National Guard’s 163d Attack Wing have seriously nice toys:

With full-motion video (optical and infra-red) and ground imaging Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) capability, SAR is able to see clearly through both clouds and smoke. 

Glad they can lend a hand. Here’s how it works:

“The two missions are to help fire crews assess fire perimeters and to identify structures that have been lost. Through the efforts of our response team, 77,000 acres have been mapped and more than 1,300 structures have been identified.”

Another story in the LA Times said that the initial response was slowed because there were no tankers within striking distance that could fly at night. Enter the drones – something Mark Bathrick and his team at DOI are currently testing. Bet that Reaper works just fine at night too.

Pushing delivery another step forward, Dr. Patrick Meier describes a rigorous field trial We Robotics conducted in Fleet of Cargo Drones Tested in the Amazon.

WeRobotics teamed up with the Peruvian Ministry of Health and Becton, Dickinson and Company to field test a fleet of affordable cargo drones in the Amazon Rainforest. During the course of two weeks, we field-tested a dozen drones including fixed-wings and hybrid drones; carrying a variety of medical payloads across a range of distances from 2km to 126km. These comprehensive field tests comprised over 40 flights.

Thanks for reading and for sharing. You can access all of the back issues of Dronin’ On here.

best,
ck

Christopher Korody
DroneBusiness.center
chris@dronebusiness.center
follow me @ dronewriter