Hi all –

The big news this week was a hearing by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs to solicit input and (mostly) demonstrate agency support for their proposed bill, S. 2836, the Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018: Countering Malicious Drones. I’ll take you for a tour of the weeds, but first an update on Senate bill, S.1405 (115), FAA Reauthorization courtesy of Morning Transportation. Then DOD COTS ban, an FCC crackdown and some big business plays.



FAA-UNK SOUL BROTHERHow do you get an unassuming, nerdy policy bill a date to the prom … er, the Senate floor? Do you ditch the glasses and don a red dress (while performing a choreographed dance deejayed by Usher)? Do you belt out a Frankie Valli song and whisper sweet Shakespearean nothings? Nah, you probably cut a deal to make your appearance short (but so sweet). Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune suggested as much before Monday night votes, when asked about discussions with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the FAA bill (S. 1405 (115)). “It’s on his radar screen and he knows we need to do it, and I think he’s hoping we can negotiate something with the Democrats that would enable us to process it with a limited amount of floor time.” 


THE LONG, HOT SUMMERSenate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell crushed summer vacation dreams across the Beltway Tuesday when he canceled most of August recess, citing the need to overcome “historic obstruction by Senate Democrats” and vote on nominations and spending bills — but the FAA bill (S. 1405 (115)) also made its way onto a to-do list circulated by a McConnell aide. Sen. John Thune said he expects the longer session will “enhance” prospects for the bill being passed. Even if it does, though, it’s worth keeping in mind that even with the extra school time, lawmakers still might not wrap up a conference on the legislation before the end of the year. [emphasis mine]

A few weeks ago Paul Ryan blew H.R. 4 through the House in something under three hours –  including a coffee break – leaving dozens of amendments to be dealt with later. If McConnell gets his way, this whole thing (aka your future) will be sorted out down the road behind closed doors in committee.

Also on Wednesday, Miriam McNabb quoted me in DroneLife in her article, Rogue Drones: What Does the FAA Do to Enforce Drone Laws? New Report from GAO Offers Insight. The article came out of a discussion we had about an article she had written about the recent decision in Seattle – where the sentence was imposed by the City.

What is curious – and perhaps worth an essay – is that after every incident one finds people jumping up and down exhorting the FAA to punish the perps – assuming, of course, they can catch them. It’s the Red Queen “off with their heads.”  Which, while it sounds appealing, is 180 degrees from the policy that the FAA adopted in 2015.

In practical terms, the threat to pull a ticket (suspend or revoke a license) for a pilot or air carrier or MRO carries a massive economic penalty. They don’t need to throw people in jail, just drive them to the poor house. The joke, of course, is that if they pull an RPIC’s ticket, he or she is likely to keep right on flying. This is to my point last weekend – no one has done anything to promote the value of Part 107 – enterprises are self-policing because of the fear of liability, but lots of clients out there just want the low bidder…

Which provides a segue of sorts – in her prepared testimony to the Senate on S.2836, the FAA’s Angela Stubblefield, Deputy Associate Administrator for Security and Hazardous Materials Safety wrote that:

To date, the FAA has initiated 74 cases for incidents involving unsafe or unauthorized UAS operations. In 2017, 19 incidents resulted in enforcement actions. In 2016, there were 13 such cases. In addition, 23 cases have been initiated citing the FAA’s small UAS rule, part 107. All of those cases involved careless or reckless operations.


Conveniently, Thursday provided a new segue. FAA Establishes Restrictions on Drone Operations over DOJ and USCG Facilities – specifically federal penitentiaries and Coast Guard bases. Steven Mann, The Drone Mann immediately banged out Just a Useless “Solution” to a Problem saying that:

There are headlines almost weekly of someone using a drone to drop contraband into prisons.  Unless I am mistaken, it’s already illegal to transport contraband into a prison, regardless of the method used, so what the hell good is a new rule going
to do?

And the USCG bases?  Show me a Coast Guard base that doesn’t have a heliport or even runways for fixed-wing aircraft!  Most of those bases in this new rule are already less than, and in some cases adjacent to airports in Class-B airspace.  In other wordsit’s already illegal to fly your drone there.

 So, why would anyone with an ounce of common-sense think that a new rule is needed?  What is the Coast Guard afraid of?

This new rule is nothing more than pandering to someone’s drone hysteria.

Driven largely by the readily perceived lack of enforcement, it’s no secret that many in the community agree with Mann, who holds a commercial pilot’s certificate with instrument and flight instructor ratings and has been in drones since the beginning. And while you can quibble about the word hysteria, if you replace it with something like “grave concerns,” you will have accurately captured the official Washington position – one that like a snowball continues to
gain momentum.


On Wednesday, June 6 a two-hour hearing was held to discuss the proposed bill. You can read the bill here. Here is the link to the webcast where you can also download prepared statements by Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI), Ranking Member Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and the witnesses Hon. David Glawe (DHS), Hayley Chang (DHS), Scott Brunner (DOJ/FBI) and Angela Stubblefield (FAA) whose departments all participated in drafting this bill. And yes, I watched the whole thing – and am going to share selected morsels with you.

The public hearing followed a closed (classified) hearing Tuesday. After the Chairman’s preliminary comments and Sen. McCaskill reading her written statement, he introduced YouTube footage of an ISIS attack on an Iraqi position with the comment that “This looks like something coming out of the US Defense Department quite honestly.”

Let me try to give you the essence of the bill. At present, neither the DHS nor the DOJ can  interdict (knockdown) a drone – at the border, at a police action, at a prison, at a large event or any of the other million and one places that nefarious operators – be they foreign states, terrorists, criminal organizations or other evil doers – might choose to engage using an ever-growing list of tactics.

As Johnson succinctly put it “We have no authority to counter those drones.”

In fact, as Ms. Chang explained, our agencies are specifically prohibited from doing so by Title 18, the Aircraft Sabotage Act, the Wire Tapping Act and many other laws that are currently on the books – all of which both Sen. McCaskill and Ms. Chang pointed out were written before drones were even a glimmer in an engineer’s eye.

Furthermore – and this is a glorious Catch-22 – because these activities are prohibited by law; domestic federal agencies are strictly prohibited from doing any R&D, testing or acquisition of any such systems. Because such use would
be illegal.

There was a question about why taking a drone away was any more complicated an issue than taking a gun away – which led to a discussion of the much more complex legal considerations, and the sheer difficulty of actually knocking one out of the sky without raining lead on the surroundings.

Under the very pointed questioning of Senator Margaret Hassan (D-NH), there was an extended discussion about whether DHS would be able to confer their proposed powers to state and local law enforcement – the answer is no, that is not part of the bill.

Which informed the angle that Morning Transportation took in their
Thursday recap:

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE SUPER BOWL AND A COLLEGE GAME: If the Senate’s counterdrone measure is enacted, the Super Bowl would be defended against malicious drone attacks while a college football game — assuming only state and local law enforcement are present — wouldn’t. As Tanya reports, the Senate bill only grants federal officials the authority to take down unauthorized drones, and that’s disappointing to Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who said at a hearing Wednesday that his first reaction to the bill was, “is this really all we’re doing?” He said the fear of “pushback” kept them from bringing forward a more expansive bill. “This is not going to solve the problem,” he said. “This just puts us on the path to begin to address the problem.” 

Still: The hearing was a good reminder that a remote identification rule from the FAA is an essential piece of the security puzzle for drones. When authorized drones are broadcasting their ID, unauthorized ones will stick out more, making law enforcement’s job easier as drones proliferate in the airspace. DOT is shooting for a May 2019 target date for such a rule.

The Commercial Drone Alliance offered up Guiding Principles for Counter-UAS Legislation in advance of the hearing stressing that:

Universal UAS remote identification and tracking is necessary to ensure that federal agencies have a means of distinguishing between cooperative (authorized) UAS and non-cooperative UAS.

As you would hope, the friend or foe aspect of Remote ID is a theme that Ms. Stubblefield ably expounded on. Though she blinked when she had the chance (both in writing and in testimony) at the opportunity to point out that rewriting 336 was the essential precursor… An irritating detail that for reasons that continue to mystify me was never brought up in any of the written testimony or the two hours plus of discussion. Or in any of the subsequent coverage. Clearly the Ancient Modeler has got something on someone.

For me, one of the most glorious moments came when the Chairman fixed Ms. Stubblefield with a gaze that Senators perfect to harass civil servants and asked her about the “gap” between the four million drones that the FAA claims are flying around and the one million that are registered… Hmm.

We may not have heard the end of that. Registration at the point of sale might happen yet – after all that was the original missed opportunity. Ms. Stubblefield, who was not part of the problem, struggled mightily to come up with an explanation for the lapse by the 2015 ARC. The excuse came down to “it was too hard” and “nobody wanted to do it.” Alrighty then…

All of which left a by now incredulous Chairman saying “Is this really all we’re doing?”

The whole team was clearly playing defense, stressing this was ‘table stakes’, ‘a first step’, ‘extremely limited’, ‘sets a high bar’, ‘concerned about privacy’ and other phrases no doubt intended to soothe the gelatinous spines of fellow lawmakers while making it clear that without it…well you know there’s nothing we can do about the problem that we all agree exists.

Unfortunately, none of this will assuage the ACLU which has already expressed their displeasure writing that:

While the potential security threat posed by drones is real and the need to protect certain facilities is legitimate, strong checks and balances to protect property, privacy, and First Amendment rights are vital. S.2836 lacks such measures. The bill amounts to an enormous unchecked grant of authority to the government to forcefully remove drones from the sky in nebulous security circumstances.

Recognizing the tumult that is sure to surround the bill, and adamant about the urgency of getting a law on the books, Chairman Johnson made it clear at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the session that he and the Committee plan to do everything they can to get their bill attached to the 2019 National Defense Appropriations Act (NDAA) as a manager’s amendment. Keen students of history will remember that FAA sUAS registration was reinstated after the Taylor decision in the 2018 NDAA. Stay tuned.

For more, Rotor & Wing has an excellent summary, US Senate Defense Bill Could Carry Federal Counter-Drone Authorities by Calvin Biesecker.


One group conspicuous by their absence was the FCC. I mean seriously, this is a mega oversight. If you are new to this, or just trying to wrap your head around it, no one can jam, spoof, deny GPS or even eavesdrop on drone transmissions without violating FCC regulations.

Which are unlikely to change.

Because, while the details vary, these kinds of activities directly impact everyone else that happens to be legally operating in the vicinity. Think of it as the law of unintended consequences – what happens when you jam a drone and take out a first responder or a manned airplane or a news helicopter? Nothing good.

In fact, during her testimony, Ms. Stubblefield explained that it has taken two years of work with the DOD to figure out what they could use where – depending on what was at the base and in the locale – to avoid a mishap.

It is important to know that the FCC is not shy about enforcement. On June 5th, they issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) against retail RC giant Hobby King proposing a $2.8 million fine:

“…For marketing sixty-five models of devices used to relay video from drones to amateur drone operators which could apparently transmit in unauthorized radio frequency bands, including some that could also operate at excessive transmission power levels. Such unlawful transmissions could interfere with key government and public safety services like aviation systems and weather radar systems.” [my emphasis] 

The story is in sUAS News and the NAL is here. Needless to say, it’s started quite a discussion on LinkedIn.

Continuing the endless speculation about Chinese spying that is much in the news again with LZE and Huawei, sUAS News reported that US – DOD Pulls the Plug on COTS Drones. If you don’t know, COTS stands for Commercial–Off–The-Shelf…

SUBJECT: (U/FOUO) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities
(U/FOUO) On May 14, 2018 the DoD Inspector General found that DoD has not implemented an adequate process to access cybersecurity risks associated with using commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS).
(U/FOUO) Effectively immediately, you must suspend purchases of COTS UAS for operational use until the DoD develops a strategy to adequately assess and mitigate the risks associated with their use.
(U/FOUO) In addition you must suspend the use of COTS UASs until the DoD identifies and fields a solution to mitigate known cybersecurity risks.
(U/FOUO) I hold approval authority for any requests for exemptions, on a case by case basis, to support urgent needs.

The memo is dated May 23 2018. I don’t know if this is a follow-on action related to the Army memo from August 2017, or something completely different.

I bring it up because there is a much larger point here. This week WH Chief of Staff John Kelly’s email was hacked, as were 600+ gigs of top-secret USN files including plans for a new anti-ship missile.

The question of what is secure, what is not, how to tell and for how long anything can reasonably be expected to remain secure grows daily.

The Senate panel offers a perfect example, as do a wide range of DOD procurement initiatives. Several Senators were adamant that DHS and DOJ explore commercial products. They had been told that there are over 235 CUAS products offered by some 155 companies from 20 countries.

As the kids say, Sen. McCaskill “got in their grills” saying I don’t want you back here in five years having spent 500 million dollars and not having a solution because the threat is changing too fast (a point that was made repeatedly) and our processes are not nimble enough to keep up. What can we buy off the shelf?

The pressure is on, but the path forward is anything but clear.


Kittyhawk continues to impress. Following the recent announcement of their partnership with Jeppesen to provide LAANC authorization from within their app, they have announced an additional $5 million in funding. According to the press release:

Jim Andelman of Bonfire Ventures, a Santa Monica-based seed fund focused on enterprise software, led the round with participation by Boeing HorizonX Ventures and Freestyle Capital; Kluz Ventures The Flying Object also participated as a returning investor.

Another smart move, SAP and Kespry Collaborate to Drive Seamless Data Integration on Construction Jobsites

Collaboration between SAP and Kespry platforms is a great enabler… Data capture is half the battle. Insight into action with business processes tied to this data is game-changing. Customers can automatically trigger work orders, adjust schedules and more. Leveraging SAP Leonardo will allow machine learning to analyze this data and create safer and more productive jobsites.

Last year George Matthew became the CEO of Kespry. Forbes did a nice profile at the time, Kespry: The Story Behind The Aerial Intelligence Company That Is Transforming Industrial Work. Among other things, it revealed that prior to coming to Kespry, Matthew held roles at Alteryx, SAP and Salesforce.com.

Mystery solved. Future in sight.

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


Christopher Korody
Editor and Publisher
follow me @dronewriter




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