The 'Right to Fly' issue of Dronin' On 04.14.18

The Right to Fly title is a deliberate misnomer. There is no right to fly in the national airspace.

Hi all –

Lots for you today including my thoughts on privacy and the right to fly, the usual look at rules and regulations, more near misses, solid think pieces, mil, cell and disturbing tech and a special props shout out.


Several of you wrote me in the kindest possible way suggesting that it was a bit of a reach to get from Facebook and Uber to CUAS. I appreciate the input and took it to heart. So I am not going to dwell on this, in part because even if you weren’t in the least bit interested, the hearings were impossible to avoid. But I promise I am going to pay it off for you a few paragraphs down.

I spent the better part of the day watching the Senate try to grill Zuck, who in my opinion handled himself with aplomb, if not complete candor. There was a clear strategy: when battles were already lost he played the repentant schoolboy; and for battles yet to be joined he offered a dozen variations of “I want to have my team follow up with you on that afterward.”

His most memorable phrase was “I think the details around this matter a lot.” A fine mantra to remember as we forge ahead.

Much of what is relevant to the future of UAS, is summarized by this quote

  • Bottom line from Wired’s Jessi Hempel (via CNBC): “Facebook became a stand-in for a bigger question, which is: ‘What do I really know about what the Internet has collected about me and what power do I have as a consumer to do anything about it?'”

If you want more, I recommend WIRED’s very insightful The Questions Zuckerberg Should Have Answered About Russia. Hopefully, more astute examiners are working the problem.

And now on to our usual programming.


Though Congress has declared its intention to avoid any heavy lifting and simply paddle around the reflecting pool until the elections are over, Morning Transportation offers proof that there is still a pulse:

(ALMOST) READY FOR ITS CLOSEUP: As the FAA bill heads to the House floor, at long last, it’s getting a few last touch-ups since its committee approval last June. The air traffic control overhaul proposal is being deleted, and “some other reforms” are in, House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) told reporters Wednesday, though he wouldn’t say which.

There was some thought that it might come to a vote on the floor Friday, but according to the Office of the Clerk it did not. Please keep in mind that the Senate will also pass their own version, after which the bill will go to Committee. Under FAA Preparing for Takeoff you can find this:

It’s also unclear how long the bill would run; the Senate proposed four years in its measure, S. 1405 (115), while Shuster’s original FAA bill, H.R. 2997 (115), generally would have reupped agency authorities through fiscal 2023 (though, of course, the Air Traffic Organization would have been lopped off in 2020).

Clock’s ticking: Absent any scheduling changes, speedy action by the House this month would give the Senate essentially three full months to squirrel away some floor time to do a bill of its own before the August recess. Still, it’s unclear when exactly that might be. “That’s being negotiated,” Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune said Tuesday when asked about timing.

Complicating the idea of a long summer snooze for the legislative body, WaPo has Trump Administration Seeks Authority to Intercept Drone Communications to Thwart Domestic Attacks

Citing a growing threat that terrorists will use drones for surveillance or as weapons, the Trump administration is asking Congress to give the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice the power to track, reroute or destroy the devices, according to a copy of the legislative proposal obtained by The Washington Post.

The legislation [the link is to a draft] would free safety and security officials from those agencies, and their contractors, from laws against intercepting electronic communications that officials say have hamstrung their ability to protect sensitive facilities from increasingly cheap and powerful unmanned aircraft, which already number in the millions.

Plenty of implications here:

Laura K. Donohue, director of the Center on National Security and the Law at Georgetown University Law Center, said that the threat from drones is real but that the proposal as written is too deferential to federal judgments about potential dangers and raises First Amendment and other concerns.

Unless it is done as an Executive Order, this one won’t be easy to pass. The details are going to matter a lot. Morning Transportation summed it up:

Wait and see: Lawmakers in charge of the committees with jurisdiction over FAA, which regulates the national airspace, were split last month over the idea of law enforcement agencies getting more authorities over drones. House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster said he was open to the concept, while Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune sounded a more skeptical tone.

One clue is that Thune has a lot more invested in drones, having lobbied hard to bring business to North Dakota; than Shuster who is taking his deflated ATC ball and going home.


Forbes contributor John Goglia, a highly respected aviation writer, seems to have fallen under the AMA’s spell with Save Section 336: Safe Hobby Flying Requires Education, Not More Drone Regulation. You can see the outlines of the argument that Congress will have to wrestle with, if in fact they even get around to reconsidering 336.

For sure, there have been reckless drone flights and some may have been flown by hobby flyers but I am confident that none of these reckless flights could be said to have been flown in compliance with the AMA’s safety guidelines and protected by 336.  In any event, the FAA retains the authority to prosecute model aircraft operators who “endanger the safety of the national airspace system.” 

Reckless fliers are reckless fliers, no matter what else they may or may not be. Of course they were not flown in compliance – not with 336, 107, 333 or 101.

What Goglia does here – perhaps inadvertently – is shine a bright light on the question of what value the AMA brings to the table. Which leads to, why they should have the privilege of being able to write their own regulations?

CBO membership is a relic of airfields and the RC world. They claim to have compiled an enviable safety record – and they should be allowed to continue to rule the model aircraft kingdom.

As for drones, a simple FAA regulation – Part 101 – that mirrors the Part 107 rules without a provision for waivers might be a reasonable solution. I’d like to see it decoupled from registration and I would like to see a test. Of course I like ice cream too. A lot of people have wondered why they had to pay the AMA $75 for something the government has been giving away for $5…

Goglia continues: The push to repeal 336, at least by the Commercial Drone Alliance, is driven by the desire to see all drones – regardless of who is operating them – subject to remote identification.  Remote identification, in my opinion, makes sense for delivery drones and other commercial operators who want to operate beyond visual line of sight but makes little sense for those who are required to operate within visual line of sight, such as 336 operators.  I also believe that requiring government identification and tracking of hobby drones raises significant privacy concerns for individuals.

There is no precedent for privacy in the NAS.

No one else who flies enjoys any privacy – everyone has a license and an N number. Had the rules been thought through in the first place, all manufacturers would have been – and still could be – required to equip every product they wish to import and sell with a Remote ID chip.

There is a larger issue which makes this argument particularly tone deaf and I will now refer you back to Mr. Zuckerberg who said “The internet is growing in importance around the world in people’s lives and I think that it is inevitable that there will need to be some regulation.”

The difference between Facebook – where one signs up and spends time voluntarily – and one’s image, behaviors and data is captured by a drone flown by someone you don’t know, for some purpose you don’t understand, is profound. For some dramatic examples please consider Will The Drone Please Take The Stand. People are angry and if we are not careful drones will make a fine sacrificial lamb.

Since the cat has been let out of the bag, we have collectively wasted billions of brain cells and millions of dollars solving problems created by a handful of individuals – statistical outliers – bozos who will always be outside the law…

If there are going to be millions of drones in the national airspace, the details matter.


While I never intended this to be a weekly topic, like ‘shitheads on motorcycles’ dropping bomblets from their Phantoms, near misses do little to reassure people that drones are safe, never mind good.

In the UK we have Drone in Near Miss De-Rails Coast Guard Training Exercises. A search and rescue helicopter conducting test on the coast came very close to hitting a consumer-operated drone. The helicopter was able land safely following the ‘potentially fatal’ near miss.

And New Zealand once again is in the news, Drone Diverts Landing Planes at Auckland Airport. You can tell that the authorities are not at all amused:

The Civil Aviation Authority’s Steve Moore said “The safety of the travelling public cannot be compromised by thoughtless fools flying drones illegally in the airport zones. We are calling on the public who live or work in and around Auckland airport to report any person who is operating a drone close to the airport.”

I understand that you may think that all of this is a bit breathless, but remember the editorial standard embraced by newsrooms the world over: If it bleeds it leads.


This week a client asked me to provide them with some industry forecasts they could use for a new business presentation. In reviewing what was current (forecasts from 2016 and earlier must be considered with large grains of Himalayan pink salt reflecting their rarefied origin) I came across a new to me player from the UK, Interact Analysis.

To my eye, Commercial Drones in 2022 – Our Predictions is more sensible than many. I know that the juicy bits below will cheer many watching their burn rate – take a look at the article, download the handsome infographic and sign up for their webinar April 22 when principal Ash Sharma presents their findings.

Industry revenues will reach $15bn by 2022, up from just $1.3bn in 2016. This includes revenues from hardware, software/analytics and drone services.

 Rapidly increasing penetration rates into a huge number of commercial applications will drive a six-fold increase in drone shipments, surpassing 620,000 units in 2022. Only the trend of using drone service providers rather than purchasing hardware will temper this growth.

I find this last sentence fascinating since it suggests that we will see a swing back from the current trend favoring in-house operations.

What Role Will Drones Play in Aerial Data Acquisition Ecosystems? Too bad the title is so dry because Jeremiah Karpowicz’s interview with Jesse Kalman, President of Airbus Aerial is anything but.

Certain problems might best be addressed by a traditional manned aircraft data collection, especially when you’re talking about a huge area. Satellites are in some cases much more economical and efficient in getting to the ultimate business problem. Drones are an interesting and new technology, but in many cases they do something similar to what other existing technologies have done, they just do it in a different way.


TIME reports that A Global Arms Race for Killer Robots Is Transforming
the Battlefield

Over the weekend, experts on military artificial intelligence from more than 80 world governments converged on the U.N. offices in Geneva for the start of a week’s talks on autonomous weapons systems. Many of them fear that after gunpowder and nuclear weapons, we are now on the brink of a “third revolution in warfare,” heralded by killer robots — the fully autonomous weapons that could decide who to target and kill without human input.

The article includes the video of the Perdix test over China Lake in January 2017 when a pair of F-18s deployed (dropped?) a swarm of 104 drones.
Interesting stuff.

Meanwhile once again proving that one man’s floor is another man’s ceiling…

Russia Has Figured Out How to Jam U.S. Drones in Syria, Officials Say

Dr. Todd Humphreys, the director of the Radionavigation Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin, an expert on the spoofing and jamming of GPS, says that “GPS receivers in most drones can be fairly easily jammed.”

…One official confirmed the tactic is having an operational impact on U.S. military operations in Syria.

In The Drive, Researchers Envision enIoD: An Energy Neutral Internet of Drones Researchers at the University of Cambridge and KoC University published a paper on a theoretical resilient, self-sustaining drone network.

…It’s the ever-increasing use of recreational drones that has sparked the need for more surveillance drones, and as the limited battery life and poor intercommunication poses a potential gap in combatting nefariously operated drones, a network like the enIoD would ensure maximum oversight and resources to do so. 

I think that people are beginning to understand that our little corner of the sky is like everywhere else… And that for every action there is going to be an often unequal reaction, in the form of regulation and new business opportunities.

Retired Major General James Poss has written about this extensively for Inside Unmanned Systems. [the link will take you to an index with all his articles]


As cellular service entwines itself into every aspect of our lives the ability to restore lost connections and to add connectivity becomes more and
more important.

In July 2016, AT&T led the way with the launch of their Flying COWs (Cells on Wings) which were intended to “provide LTE coverage at large events or even rapid disaster response.”

By November 2017, the Flying COW was providing service to Puerto Rico in the wake of Maria.

Innovation continues.

After witnessing a recent test in Cape May, NJ, the NYT reported It’s Not a Bird or a Plane. It’s a 17-Foot Drone, and It’s Here to Save Your Cellphone Service.

Verizon is trying to determine how a portable 4G LTE hot spot could work in an area “where a disaster had impacted Verizon service and there is no other way to get cellular coverage to that location,” said Christopher Desmond, a principal engineer for the company. The trial… reaffirmed the viability of the concept,
Mr. Desmond said.

While not designed for disaster response, IEEE Spectrum’s story Soaring ‘SuperTowers’ Aim to Bring Mobile Broadband to Rural Areas shows how a blimp could significantly lower the cost of providing service.

The SuperTower platform employs a tethered, autonomous aerostat that can lift antennas and receivers to an altitude of 250 meters (820 feet) to deliver mobile broadband to underserved communities. One aerostat can provide coverage for up to 10,000 square kilometers (3,860 square miles), an area that would normally require between 20 and 30 cell phone towers.


If you have not read David Hambling’s book Swarm Troopers: How small drones will conquer the world, I highly recommend it. It will broaden your idea of what a drone is, and how it can be deployed. Hackers Using Drones to Commit Crimes offers some hints.

“Anything within the vicinity that’s speaking over the air that’s kind of an ideal platform to kind of just go land to do a drive by outside the window or go land on the roof and then hack something over the air.”

Hackers attach a little computer called a Raspberry Pi to a drone. It looks like a big computer chip and then it’s just flown around.”These quad copters basically are little laptops with hacker tools on them.”

As UAS forensics whiz David Kovar pointed out to me, the idea of driving around stealing signals is not new – it’s why every router manufacturer urges you to password protect your router. But think about “go land on the roof.” Out of sight, out of mind and it can stay there for a long, long time.

We must never make the mistake of limiting our vision of drones to the white quads that currently define the genre.


AUVSI XCELLENCE Humanitarian Award Finalists Announced The award, sponsored by DJI, recognizes five organizations and/or individuals that have used drone technology for humanitarian or philanthropic good. Five winners will be chosen from the shortlist and receive a share of $25,000 to put towards the continuation of their humanitarian efforts.

The finalists are:

  • Aeryon Labs Inc., Aeryon SkyRanger UAS Provides Critical Aerial Intelligence to First Responders in Sint Maarten in the Wake of Hurricane Irma (Canada)
  • AnsuR Technologies, GEO-VISION – Integrating Drones for Situational Awareness in Disaster Management (Sweden)
  • ONG DroneSAR Chile, Emergency Response Team and Humanitarian Aid Through the Use of Drones (Chile)
  • DroneSAR, DroneSAR UAV Search & Rescue (SAR) Solution – Executing
  • Autonomous Aerial,Search and Delivering Live Drone Data to Augment First Response Efforts (Ireland)
  • Gene Robinson, Wimberley Fire Rescue, “First to Respond” Bringing UAS to Search and Rescue 2005 – 2018 (US)
  • Nepal Flying Lab, Drone Hazard & Vulnerability Mapping in Nepal (Nepal)
  • WeRoboticsDrones for Disease Vector Control (Switzerland)
  • Zipline International, Zipline’s Medical Drone Delivery Operation in Rwanda (Rwanda)

Congratulations to the finalists. We are all winners because of your vision and your dedication.

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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