House Of Cards Edition of Dronin' On 02.04.17
There was no actor anywhere better than the Jack of Hearts – Bob Dylan

Hi all –

Changes are coming fast and furious all around the dronosphere. I am calling this the “House Of Cards” edition to remind us just how tenuous the foundation is that we are trying to build our industry on.

The FAA took a direct shot at the industry when on November 14, 2016 they very quietly posted a notice in The Federal Register eliminating (almost) all closed-set 333 exemptions. An estimated 590 333 holders are affected, none of whom have been notified because “Any delay in acting on this petition would be detrimental to the petitioner.”

Writing in Drone360, Leah Froats points out “In the Section 333 era, closed-set operations were the only way that operators could legally fly drones over people. Now, redefined simply as aerial data collection, the ability to fly drones over people is revoked.”

Betsy Lillian also covered the story with an interview with Gretchen West of the Commercial Drone Alliance that adds some nuance. West said “We need to keep our eye on the FAA because this is truly a step back.”

Very hard to read this as anything but a slap in the face to those who ponied up early to play by the rules. Service providers are left in limbo, in some cases producers have no options for their shot list and third parties of all kinds are left in the lurch with NAB around the corner. Any way you look at it, a whole lot of people are going to lose jobs and money in what was one of the bright spots of our industry. Not a word of explanation.

In his keynote at CES, FAA Administrator Huerta said “We will be looking to our industry partners to develop more ingenious ways to ensure drones can fly over people without sacrificing safety or security.” This was meant to explain why the FAA missed the NPRM for overflights – another article suggested interagency pushback perhaps during the recent OIRA period.

And now on to the other big news, Elaine Chao was overwhelmingly approved (93-6) as Secretary of Transportation. During her hearing, James Inhofe (R-OK) threw Ms. Chao a softball:

INHOFE One of the inhibiting factors in drones is all the over regulations that are there. Do you, number one, agree with that, and do you have plans to attack these regulations pretty quick in your service?

CHAO It’s an emerging technology. there are those who see the benefits of commercializing them for various uses. It’s transforming the way we work, the way we do commerce. There are also others who are very concerned about privacy issues, security issues, and, again, going forward with an emerging technology as important as this with such vast implications for our future, I think we need to talk about it. We need to have, again, a national consensus on where we’re going.

In an exchange with Cory Gardner (R-CO) over how regulations for autonomous vehicles would be developed.

GARDNER How do you think the Department of Transportation should work with states and others in the integration of technologies like those in Colorado? [He was talking about the OTTO autonomous beer delivery.]

CHAO I think regulations need to be based on sound science, on real data to ensure that the best regulations are put forward. And whether it’s roads we talked about here, but across all of the agencies within the Department of Transportation.”

TechCrunch offered up a good summary. All rational and encouraging… until it was less so.

In their January newsletter, Small UAV Coalition sounded the alarm, explaining that: “Unfortunately, additional barriers to much needed regulations for the commercial UAS industry have emerged in recent weeks. Secretary Chao will have to review and approve the proposed rule before it can be published per a presidential memorandum issued by the President shortly after he took office. Under an executive order released yesterday, the FAA [in fact all agencies] will be required to identify two regulations to repeal before it can move forward with the operations over people rule.” [Assuming of course that’s the one they choose to make room for…]

Two steps back don’t necessarily lead to any steps forward, says Lisa Ellman of Hogan Lovells. “The industry’s growth depends on the assumption that United States policymaking keeps up with the technology.” It’s a solid argument that reminds us once again that regulation impacts our ability to compete on the
world stage.

Nor have we seen anything on either the FAA or RTCA websites about what was accomplished at the second Drone Advisory Committee (DAC) meeting which was held in Reno January 31.

Fortunately Patrick Egan was on hand in his capacity as a private citizen and posted a report which is not in the least bit flattering. “There should be more transparency in the rulemaking process, so people don’t continue to falsely believe that more progress is being made than is in reality.”

Police Are Making It Impossible To Use Drones To Document Protests – and Inaugurations and Women’s Marches…. “As a new era of civil resistance dawns under the Trump administration, at the Standing Rock site and in anti-Trump demonstrations across the country, drone experts say police and government have made it unnecessarily difficult — sometimes impossible — for civilians to deploy drones at large protests.” With the First Amendment on the line, it will be up to the journos to lead the charge.

In the ever popular “just a matter of time” category comes CBP Regulatory Curve Ball Could Drastically Slow Drone Industry. The CBP is the US Customs and Border Patrol. The writer’s speculative thesis is that the FAA could get the CBP to change the categorization of drones from duty free imports (as they are currently classified) thus adding to the cost of each unit.

I thought it worth sharing because I have long been of the opinion that certain FESSA provisions can only be enforced at the Port of Entry. Many of the companies exporting drones into the US are doing the minimum possible for safety, education and QC; and retailers have made it clear they want no part
of registration.

Since by any conservative estimate a minimum of 60% of UAVs in the US come from China (do I hear 90%?), any combination of duties, mandatory equipment levels and trade wars would slow both the consumer and the commercial market.

GoPro Karma is back at the same $799 (w/o camera) that it launched at – prior to the introduction of the Mavic and the recall. That’s some seriously
wishful thinking.

On the GoPro (GPRO) Q4 2016 Results – Earnings Call 2/2/17 CEO Nick Woodman noted that “We do believe that we have a very strong value proposition for the GoPro community, helping our customers get their GoPros into the air…. But given that we’ve only relaunched the product yesterday, we’re not going to be giving any information as to how much it’s going to contribute over the quarter or next.” GPRO stock dropped 12.5% in after-hours trading.

Apparently Autel is laying off their US sales and marketing team. Gary Mortimer at sUAS News has the story. Check out the very cool video of their Kestrel VTOL they premiered at CES to not much attention from anyone.

I very much like Gary’s closing lines: “This year is sorting the wheat from the chaff in a contracting consumer drone market. Peak consumer drone has been and gone. Commercial drone operators now know better what they need. Companies that make it out of 2017 will sell task focused platforms that target niches.” 

After all that, an Eye Candy Tag Award winner is a must. Skypixel’s 2016 Dronography Contest is a celebration of what happens when a global toolset meets local talent.

Finally, thanks to all of you who took the time to express condolences.

Thank you for reading and for sharing.

best,
ck

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