Hi all –
I am pleased to announce the publication of the first piece I wrote for Skylogic Research on behalf of their client InterDrone, 5 Valuable Lessons Learned About Drones In Construction. Special thanks to Richard Lopez, VDC Manager at Hensel Phelps who shared his experiences standing up their drone organization.
DRONIN’ ON SCOOP The Coalition of UAS Professionals, in partnership with Leidos (NYSE LDOS), has announced the release of UASidekick – a pilot friendly app that makes it possible for a UAV RPIC to file a NOTAM or UOA in about 30 seconds, and also provides a host of other functionality such as airspace awareness and flight logging.
What’s great is that Leidos is a US$7B company that provides a range of aviation systems and integration software to the FAA, NASA and other agencies and whose software is already in broad use in the aviation community.
“Leidos Flight Services provides a range of safety-oriented services to more than 80,000 members of the general aviation community across the country each week,” said Paul Engola, Senior Vice President of Transportation and Financial Solutions for Leidos Civil Group.
And there is more goodness. “The Leidos UAS Notification Service is being tested as part of the Federal Aviation Administration UAS Pathfinder Program with Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railways to explore concepts for “beyond visual line-of-sight” operations of small, unmanned aircraft.”
Nathan Ruff, Managing Director, Coalition of UAS Professionals explained that “The goal is to bring all members of the aviation community together on a common platform to facilitate safety, transparency and communication.”
Seems like John Taylor has won the opening round in Taylor vs Huerta which challenges the legality of the FAA’s recreational drone registration fee – aka “five and fly.” Miriam McNabb has the first write-up in DroneLife.com.
In response to the FAA’s argument that Part 48 met the FAA’s goals for both enforcement and education, and that over 700,000 drone operators had already registered, the judge was dismissive. “That’s a policy argument,” he stated. “The fact that the thing you’re doing has good effect doesn’t mean that the thing
Still, Mark McKinnon writing in Plane-ly Spoken for Dentons advises against calling this a done deal. “Any appellate litigator will tell you that you can’t draw too many conclusions about who is going to win an appeal based on the questioning at oral argument. However, it is also clear that the FAA had a bad day in Court, and those who thought that the regulations would be easily upheld should take some time to think about what “Plan B” might be for the unmanned aircraft
Jonathan Rupprecht who worked with John Taylor on the suit, told me that they expect a decision in June or July. “There are three cases all consolidated. If Taylor wins on two really strong arguments, the registration regulations (Part 48) are illegal in total and everyone will need to register via Part 47.” That would be yuge since it is pretty clear that a lot of recreational flyers are not registering – and it begs the question of how many would re-register.
Furthermore, as Jonathan points out “It would break the system. The FAA will need to retract their interpretation or the registration branch will be brought to their knees.” Finally given the current climate we’ve been reporting from DC, under Part 47 drones would continue to be classified as aircraft. Which is becoming an increasing problem.
Did you notice the 700,000 drone operators who magically appeared?
The FAA is at it again. AUVSI reported “An aviation industry forecast released today by the FAA projects the commercial UAS fleet in the United States to grow from 42,000 to 442,000 in the next five years. Remote Pilot Licenses are also expected to increase from 20,000 to a range of 10 to 20 times during the same time. The data in the FAA study began at the end 2016. The FAA said the forecasts contain “certain broad assumptions” about the current and evolving regulatory environment for UAS.” In fact, the estimates range up to 1.2M commercial drones in 2021.
No one in the Twittersphere is buying these numbers. If you don’t want to read all 30 plus pages of the forecast, Betsy Lillian at Unmanned Aerial Online did the heavy lifting digging into the numbers. Adding to the confusion, Sally French (@thedronegirl) writes that “As of March 21, the FAA had issued 37,579 remote pilot certificates, according to an FAA spokesperson.”
Careful readers will also find it hard to miss the caveat about “certain broad assumptions”. Reuters reported that earlier this month Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told firefighters that “While drones have a lot of potential to assist responders, they can also pose a problem if not carefully monitored.” What kind of assumption does that lead you to?
Look, I am as rah-rah as the next drone guy and gal. But when and how did we establish that there are 42,000 commercial drones? And how did we get to 20,000 pilots when the reported number (well two of them) are already over 30,000? And in this document is 29,000. And how will 400,000 pilots fly 1.2M drones? The agency cites the “uncertainty in the ratio of remote pilots per commercial UAS vehicles.” Why is there uncertainty?
I have again written to the very supportive Kevin Morris of the FAA asking him to present the need for timely, accurate data on a consistent basis to support all manner of industry forecasts and business plans. The good news is that he gets it, so fingers crossed.
Meanwhile, the FAA found time to work through what were described as “two complex waiver applications” one of which grants the Grand Forks [ND] County Sheriff’s Office permission to fly drones at night anywhere in the country. (No word about the second one.)
The sweet part of the story as reported by the Bemidji Pioneer is that Sheriff Bob Rost shamed the FAA at the recent Heli-Expo saying that “Approving the [Super Bowl] night flight in less than six weeks sent a message the entertainment takes priority over public safety. He said Friday in a statement the timing was right “to make the public aware of the FAA’s long delays in processing UAS waiver requests from public safety agencies.”
Once again trying to address the privacy issue that I keep harping on are Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) who have jointly introduced the Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act.
According to the report in UASVision.com “The act requires applicants to the FAA for drone licenses to submit a data collection statement. The statement must include who will operate the drone, where it will fly, what kind of data will be collected and how it will be used, whether it will be sold to third parties, and how long it will be retained for.” Yes, there is some similarity to the NTIA Privacy, Transparency and Accountability Voluntary Best Practices published last May.
And now on to my other big theme, security. And the suddenly looming FESSA requirement that the FAA present a way to “remotely identify operators and owners of unmanned aircraft systems” by July 2017.
According to the FAA’s Earl Lawrence who testified about what last week at the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation “One of the most important and biggest areas the FAA is working on is figuring out identification and tracking for sUAS. The FAA team has been working with security officials to learn what info would be valuable.” Really? How about starting with who is that up there? Here is a report on the hearing from UAS Magazine.
The AUVSI call for papers on Remote Identification of Small UAS closed this week. “This canvassing will allow for AUVSI to provide Section 2202 government stakeholders a clear picture of the current technology landscape and help begin federal efforts to meet the congressional directive.”
Some of you will remember the article by Christian Ramsey, VP Business Development of uAvionix Remote Identification – The Next Big Hurdle for Drone Regulations we featured last week.
I don’t know if three dots make a trend line, but that’s three more than we’ve ever had on this particular topic.
Further stirring the security pot is this WaPo headline Isis’s Killer Drones Are a Threat, but the Pentagon Is Bracing to Face More-Advanced ‘Suicide’ Aircraft. The idea here is that “Laden with explosives or other dangerous materials, they would operate by crashing into U.S. troops in a combat zone and would not be as easy to detect as existing drones used by the Islamic State, because they would not rely on radio frequencies for remote controlling.” This strategy is already in play –Iran is sending drones to Yemen to target Saudi Patriot batteries using open source code to program the GPS.
If you need to understand this issue in depth, my good friend and collaborator David Kovar has published his thesis on Defending Against UAVs Operated by Non-State Actors. “Our hypothesis is that Western nations are not prepared to defend civilian populations against the use of small UAVs by non-state actors. The defenders are at a classical asymmetric warfare disadvantage – they need a nearly 100% success rate. This is essentially an impossible victory condition to meet.”
To add insult to injury it’s only March but drones are already interfering with firefighting efforts. This time in Coconino National Forest in northern Arizona. Hopefully the US Forest Service will be back with a bigger budget for If You Fly, We Can’t.
Terrific common sense interview on assessing insurance needs by Jeremiah Karpowicz with Chris Proudlove, SVP at Global Aerospace. One comment I found interesting “We have generally noticed that companies that approach the integration of drones from an aviation or military perspective have a more successful and effective integration.” Chris also offers up some interesting ideas about the need for flexible policies that I think will shape the market.
A fabulous story from Down Under in the senseFly Waypoint blog When Birds Attack! It’s an interview with two pilots about how they keep their eBee’s safe. “Wedge-tailed eagles are magnificent birds, much larger than even the American bald eagles,” says Australian UAV’s Andrew Chapman. “Here in Australia, we usually see an eagle on one job in four when flying in rural areas, and our drone is aggressively attacked perhaps one job in six or eight.”
Soundbite of the day has to be “They literally come out of nowhere. Like a Frenchman in a wingsuit they are on top of your eBee.” Mais oui. Worth a look.
Props to AutoModality who won the $1 million grand prize in the Genius NY business competition. Their big idea allows drones to automatically conduct close-up inspections of bridges, buildings, power lines and other structures.
This week’s Eye Candy Tag Award winner which was suggested by Bruce P. Called Drone Football it was produced for Pepsi Max and has garnered over 8 million views. Good fun.
Thanks for reading and for sharing. You can find the back issues of Dronin’ On here.
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