image Pixabay

Hi all –

There’s a cloud hanging over the Emerald City and a new sheriff riding into Dodge. Plus another delay for Remote ID, compliance and the NPRM, delivery, a tempest in a teapot, a ULC debate, the scoop on the drone attack on Venezuelan bad boy Nicolas Maduro, one company that is Paying It Forward, Coming Attractions and some sweet Eye Candy.


screen grab from Building The 737 MAX PTQ – courtesy Boeing – click to view

This from Morning Transportation Thursday:

DRONE RULES DELAYED: Several major rulemakings on drones have been delayed (and one accelerated), according to an update from the DOT issued Wednesday. Most significantly a notice of proposed rulemaking on remote identification and tracking has been pushed back to publish July 1 and the comment period extended until October. “Another delay is a setback for the drone industry, because remote ID is considered the linchpin for all manner of other expanded drone authorities, since it will calm fears expressed by national security interests,” Tanya writes.

[REMINDER] The comment periods for two other rules, on drone flights over people and safe and secure operations, respectively, are now slated to end April 15. And the publication date for a rule protecting critical infrastructure from drones flying overhead has been moved up to October, from an initial date of March 2020.
[This is big.]

portrait of Captain Steve Dickson
Captain Steve Dickson – photo from LinkedIn profile

After 15 months, at perhaps the most inopportune time possible, the President has decided to fill one of the many vacant senior positions in the Federal government.

Please join me in welcoming the nominee for FAA Administrator, Captain Steve Dickson, who flew the line for Delta before becoming (while serving?) as SVP, Flight Operations. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Air Force Academy, was an F-15 fighter pilot and graduated magnum cum laude from the Georgia State University College of Law. The man has everything but government experience. Depending on how you look at it, that’s a good thing, a bad thing or both.

All that stands between Steve and five years flying his new desk at 800 Independence Ave., is confirmation by the Senate. With ‘Twitch’ McConnell at the stick it should be an easy landing.

This is going to be one hell of a way for Steve to round out a distinguished career. And oh boy, will he have his hands full, never mind Next Gen, Space, Hypersonic and sUAS; let’s go straight to les affaires MAX.

Secretary Chao has ‘asked’ the DOT IG to investigate the FAA’s certification process (been plenty of criticism for a long time), the FBI is ‘assisting’ investigators in a federal grand jury probe of the 737 Max certification process, the Senate Commerce Committee (remember it’s now Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) not John Thune (R-SD) chairing Aviation) is holding a hearing next week and House Transportation Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) announced that he will be looking into things. My guess is that the party is just getting started.

While the thunderclouds form on the mountain, Avionics reports that Boeing is not wasting any time, FAA Reviewing Boeing’s 737 MAX Software Update.

But a number of countries have already let it be known that this time we’ll do our own testing thank you because the USA, the FAA and the NTSB aren’t what they used to be. (Tempting but I am not going there.) Garuda Airlines just canceled a US$6B order for 49 planes. And China has gone so far as to say that they are considering taking the MAX off the table in the upcoming trade discussions.

Last week I mentioned the idea that Boeing should make like Tesla and stream all the flight data. Not to suggest I am prescient because I am not, but Aviation Week just published, Opinion: The Time Is Ripe For Live Flight Data Streaming.

If the FAA and other regulators had had access to ET302 data, the grounding scenario would have been different. If it could have been confirmed that the causes of the ET302 and JT610 accidents were similar, as now seems to be the case, MAX aircraft would have been parked quickly and with justifiable data to support the move. This would have satisfied both the public’s concern and the safety community’s insistence on reasonable, measured actions.

Making a call on whether to ground an aircraft based on a brief look at FDR data may not be ideal. But it is far more reasonable than making the call without it.

Meanwhile Acting Administrator Daniel Elwell will continue to do his best to steady the agency and keep things on course. 

Boeing 737 MAX takes off in rain
screen grab from Building The 737 MAX PTQ – courtesy Boeing – click to view

With a plethora of articles on the subject, let’s cut to what matters to the sUAS industry, the UAS industry and as Mike Blades pointed out to me in a Twitter exchange, the UAM industry. The certification process.

The concept of delegating certification to the manufacturer, a prominent feature of the FAA’s plans for these three emerging industries, is based on two things, the first being that the fox is the best choice to guard the henhouse, and the second and more rational, the limits of the FAA’s budget.

I have to wonder if before MAX is over, there is going to be some soul searching and that the whole ODA (Organization Designation Authorization) manufacturer certification thing is going to be revisited. Or is it?

Mike Borfitz has 37 years of experience in Type and Production Certification. Writing in JDA Journal, he take us behind the ODA curtain in What FAA Delegation Does—How And Why?

When examining delegation as a matter of practicality, the FAA Aircraft Certification organization is responsible for ALL aircraft design and production approvals in the US and around the world…. Roughly 700 individuals are responsible for ALL design approvals, production & continued airworthiness of everything that flies and of that, maybe 400 are engineers. Well under 100 of those engineers are assigned directly to Boeing.

Now, according to the Boeing website, it has over 45,000 engineers spread throughout the entire company. Such a deep roster of talent, the aerospace company has incredibly deep and specific expertise for new designs and to manage the safety and airworthiness of the nearly 14,000 Boeing airplanes
flying today.

This legislation and subsequent additional amendments were Congressional recognition that the FAA cannot be reasonably expected to have detailed oversight of an extremely complex airplane such as the Boeing 737 Max. [my emphasis]

I hope that someone reminds the hounds on the Hill that they bought into this when they start howling for blood.

The Seattle Times has done a very fine piece of reporting that should put their aerospace reporter Dominic Gates in line for a Pulitzer, Flawed Analysis, Failed Oversight: How Boeing, FAA Certified the Suspect 737 MAX Flight Control System. The first paragraph tells the story:

As Boeing hustled in 2015 to catch up to Airbus and certify its new 737 MAX, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) managers pushed the agency’s safety engineers to delegate safety assessments to Boeing itself, and to speedily approve the resulting analysis.

The story unfolds under the subhead, Delegated to Boeing:

The FAA, citing lack of funding and resources, has over the years delegated increasing authority to Boeing to take on more of the work of certifying the safety of its own airplanes.

Early on in certification of the 737 MAX, the FAA safety engineering team divided up the technical assessments that would be delegated to Boeing versus those they considered more critical and would be retained within the FAA.

There wasn’t a complete and proper review of the documents,” the former engineer added. “Review was rushed to reach certain certification dates.”

But several FAA technical experts said in interviews that as certification proceeded, managers prodded them to speed the process. Development of the MAX was lagging nine months behind the rival Airbus A320neo. Time was of the essence
for Boeing.

“There was constant pressure to re-evaluate our initial decisions,” the former engineer said. “And even after we had reassessed it … there was continued discussion by management about delegating even more items down to the
Boeing Company.”

Compliance and sUAS
Who really thinks that a sUAS or UAS or UAM manufacturer struggling for market share or to meet a looming delivery date might not be tempted to expedite things – especially with no passengers at risk? In fact, the core of the FAA’s proposal rests on an even further diluted version of this idea – from the NPRM:

The FAA proposes a set of performance-based requirements that would allow a small unmanned aircraft to operate over people if the manufacturer can demonstrate that, if the unmanned aircraft crashed into a person, the resulting injury would be below a certain severity threshold.

The document goes on to wax poetic about all the ways that manufacturers might solve the problem. But here’s my problem – and how the sUAS is different from the MAX process. Nowhere in the 200 some page NPRM does it say one word about FAA engineers working with the manufacturers team as an integral part of the review process, only that:

The proposal directs manufacturers to submit evidence of compliance using a Means of Compliance.

And then…

If the FAA agreed that the Means of Compliance accurately demonstrates compliance, it would accept the Means of Compliance and allow the manufacturer to use it to demonstrate that.

If you read my Formal Comment on the NPRM, you know that I wrote “The rule must mandate minimum insurance requirements for both the operator and
the manufacturer

No question that this is a relatively hands off solution that might be an effective way to avoid an endless certification bottleneck. I say ‘might’ because it hasn’t been tried. I refer you back to NUAIR CTO Andy Thurling’s post I featured last week, FAA’s NPRM for Operations Over People Further Validates Need for Third Party Performance Verification of UAS.

Anyone exploring opportunities in drone delivery should read this story by Dane Jaques a partner at Washington, D.C.-based law firm Steptoe & Johnson and associate Rebecca Lipe for, Unpacking the New FAA Certification Requirement for UAS Delivery.

In a surprise move, the Federal Aviation Administration announced last year that unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) delivery operations will be required to obtain a commercial air operator certificate (AOC). At a Drone Advisory Committee meeting in Santa Clara, Calif., the FAA announced that UAS package delivery operations would need an AOC issued under 14 CFR Part 119, as required by 14 CFR Part 135. [That was July 2018]

That certification also requires “economic authority” from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), which can only be held by a “citizen of the United States,” as defined in DOT regulations (See 14 CFR § 119.33).

This announcement that UAS delivery services would need to meet the same safety and economic certification standards as commercial operators of passenger aircraft came as a surprise to the UAS industry, especially participants in the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program

Further down one reads:

Many elements of air operator certification are impractical, if not impossible, for UAS operators to meet. For example, under 14 C.F.R. § 135.25(a), aircraft must be in an airworthy condition and meet the applicable airworthiness requirements of Part 135, including those relating to identification and equipment, and must carry an appropriate and current airworthiness certificate during operations. This is not possible given that small UAS do not qualify for airworthiness certificates.

Hang on because it looks like everything (except a plan) is now in place to
change that.

The referenced announcement predates the 2018 Reauthorization which establishes rules for delivery in SEC. 348.: CARRIAGE OF PROPERTY BY SMALL UNMANNED AIRCRAFT SYSTEMS FOR COMPENSATION OR HIRE. The law instructs the FAA to update the existing regulations within one year and addresses many of the same areas:

Under (b) CONTENTS

“(3) Consider the unique characteristics of highly automated, small unmanned aircraft systems.

“(4) Include requirements for the safe operation of small unmanned aircraft systems that, at a minimum, address 

“(A) airworthiness of small unmanned aircraft systems;

“(B) qualifications for operators and the type and nature of the operations; 

“(C) operating specifications governing the type and nature of the unmanned aircraft system air carrier operations; and 

“(D) the Views of State, local, and tribal officials related to potential impacts of the carriage of property by operators of small unmanned aircraft systems for compensation or hire within the communities to be served. [my emphasis]


dashed line shows flight hours – courtesy DOI – click to view

Last week fedscoop headlined Bipartisan Law Pushes Use of Drones for Fighting Wildfires. Regular readers know that this is a really big deal with me and something I have been covering for years. So I was surprised to read that:

…The [just signed] John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act directs the secretary of the Department of the Interior to set up or expand a “research, development, and testing program” to examine the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS, or drones) “across the full range of wildland fire
management operations.” 

Now that the bill is law, Interior will have just six months to get the program up and running.


I couldn’t decide if this was a case of the legislative branch not having a lot of insight into the executive branch – or if the ‘expert’ source they quoted is clueless. d) all of the above.

So I reached out to the DOI’s Director of Aviation, Mark Bathrick who runs what we both figure is the biggest non-military drone program in the world. As Mark says, “fire knows no boundaries,” so the norm on any big fire is a mixed team including DOI, USDA Forest Service plus state and local agencies. Mark sent me the handy dandy graphic showing that in 2018 DOI provided UAS support on some 200 fires, totaling 618 air hours.

As a side note, Mark is all about transparency and the DOI UAS public web site is a treasure trove of information. I guess my question put a bee in his bonnet, because he also sent along a PDF from the website.

    1. 47- John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act
      SEC. 1114. Wildfire Technology Modernization

It’s a fascinating document that demonstrates the years Mark has spent developing the strategies and tactics necessary to provide 24/7 support in this very challenging operating environment.

Specific to the Dingell bill:

In 2015, Interior published a 2015-2020 UAS Integration Strategy that covered wildfire (traditionally 35% of Interior’s flight hours) as well as UAS use across the rest of its diverse mission portfolio. This strategy will be updated for 2021-2026 in 2020. In 2015, DOI and USDA Forest Service (USDA-FS) developed… and began implementing a comprehensive UAS Technology Research, Development, and
Test Plan.

Pretty clear that the six-month deadline was met long before the bill was drafted.

Impact of the drone incursion strategy – courtesy DOI – click to view

This slide demonstrates the success of the joint USDA-FS/DOI program, If You Fly, We Can’t. When you consider the devastation caused by just one fire, this represents tremendous progress.

Congress has lent their support:


“(a) IN GENERAL—Except as provided in subsection (b), an individual who operates an unmanned aircraft and knowingly or recklessly interferes with a Wildfire suppression, or law enforcement or emergency response efforts related to a Wildfire suppression, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned for not more than 2 years, or both.


ULC debate
image Pixabay

The National Conference of State Legislatures presents Two Experts Trade Views on Regulating Drones. Think of this as a preview of the arguments that will unfold statehouse by statehouse once the ULC ratifies the Drone Tort Act this summer. The editor very sensibly asks:

What is the proper role for the states? Should they yield to the U.S. government, which asserts authority to regulate all airspace? Or do they defer to the drone industry?

Here’s the match-up:

Reggie Govan, a former Federal Aviation Administration chief counsel, says state and local governments must play a role in regulating drone use. Doug Johnson, with the Consumer Technology Association, cautions that without industry input lawmakers could put the brakes on innovation.

Govan, a member of the AirMap board, was an early player though he dropped out of sight when the pushback started. His essay, Let Local Players Set the Rules has a distinctly federalist slant:

Recreational, sport and commercial drone operations represent a fundamental paradigm shift… As a result, government now is required to adjudicate myriad interests unique to neighborhoods and communities across the country, and to decide whether, where and when to allow commercial drone operations in very low-altitude airspace.

Despite the drone industry’s protests to the contrary, continued reliance on federal agencies to provide regulatory solutions to issues uniquely within the purview of state and local governments is flawed as a matter of law, regulation and enlightened self-interest.

Johnson’s organization produces the CES show and his constituency includes drone retailers. His essay, Don’t Allow Regulations to Impede Progress, takes a laissez-faire approach very much in line with the early Heritage House
position papers:

For America to remain a leader in aviation and drone technology, government at all levels and private sector stakeholders must work together on rules that uphold safety and enable the economic potential of drones. With the FAA’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Integration Pilot Program now underway with state, local and tribal governments, the agency’s private sector partners will inform future
policy development.

But state efforts to enact conflicting rules—such as the ULC’s drone-specific trespass tort—threaten the growth of America’s drone industry. Before considering new legislation, state lawmakers should determine whether such action is pre-empted, already addressed by existing laws or warranted by a
technology-specific approach.


computer recreation of the attack on Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro
screen grab of recreation of the attack showing launch points – courtesy CNN – click to view

Given the ongoing mess in Venezuela I thought this report by CNN, Inside the August Plot to Kill Maduro With Drones merited a mention. You might remember that there was a lot of speculation that Maduro was protected by CUAS devices. Maybe not:

The plan was foiled by guards who caused the drones to explode prematurely, the attacker says. The cell phone signal blockers that protect the president suddenly came back on, causing the blasts.


Interesting video showing how the drone was rigged, recreating the flight paths and showing the rehearsal for the attack.


click to register

Just over a year ago, in the ‘Giving Back by Putting In’ issue I introduced a scholarship program sponsored by UAV Coach co-founders Alan and Lana Perlman. So I was delighted when Alan dropped me a line to say that the 2019 Drone Technology College Scholarship application is now open.

This scholarship awards students who are pursuing undergraduate degrees and who demonstrate an interest in pushing the drone industry forward.

Two scholarship recipients each receive a one-time $1,000 cash award. The submission deadline is May 16, 2019 at 5 p.m. EST. 


click to view

It’s busy season, here’s a brief recap in chronological order.

April 3 AUVSI is hosting a complimentary webinar, Success in the Unmanned Economy: Use Cases and Advice From the Field. NATE Executive Director Todd Schlekeway, one of the real industry success stories, is a guest.

Commercial UAV Expo Europe is in Amsterdam April 8-10. Registration for the Exhibit Halls is free. And here’s the Conference program.

The Small Unmanned Systems Business Exposition 2019 is in San Francisco April 24-25. Register here.

AUVSI XPONENTIAL 2019 is in Chicago April 29 – May 2. Subscribers get $25 off XPO Hall registration, $75 off the Full Conference and $100 off VIP registration. Just use DOXPO19 when you register.

The FAA UAS Symposium 2019 will be in Baltimore June 3-5. Information and registration is here.

Energy Drone Coalition Summit is June 11-13 in Houston. I will have a few free passes from the generous folks at the Stonefort Group. Let me know if you are interested and able to attend. If you dawdle, you can get 20% off when you use DBC20 when you register.

September 3 InterDrone kicks off in Vegas with Policy Day: Navigating the Regulatory Maze. Secure your spot at Policy Day by purchasing a 3-Day Plus Preconference Pass at the discounted rate of $665 – a 30% savings!


screen grab from the SkyPixel contest trailer – click to view

DJI has just announced the winners of the 2018 Skypixel Aerial Photo & Video Contest. Stunning.

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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