The Smoke Gets In Your Sky issue of Dronin' On 06.17.17
#KnowWhereNotToGo – the 4,000 acre Bonita Canyon blaze was set by lightning

Hi all –

Thanks for all of the positive feedback on last week’s Special Edition – 7 Forces Transforming the FAA and the UAV Industry, which is available here. I look forward to hearing from more of you.

This week’s regulatory story comes from a post that attorney Peter Sachs @thedroneguy placed on the Facebook UAV Legal News & Discussion Group on Tuesday June 13.

Peter wrote: “Oral arguments are today, in the first legal challenge to a local drone ordinance, in US District Court for Boston, Mass. Dr. Michael Singer vs. City of Newton, MA. Here are all of the relevant pleadings. I strongly suggest you read them, so that you will have a better understanding of the case and its importance.”

There are six PDFs, “1- Singer-v-Newton-Complaint.pdf” lays out Dr. Michael Singer’s complaint against the city of Newton, MA.

I thought that this first bit was rather poetic for a legal document…

  1. Newton’s Ordinance takes off from a reasonable premise—protecting people on the ground—but climbs to unlawful heights.  By attempting to regulate aircraft and navigable airspace, the Ordinance runs contrary to the will of Congress, increases the risk of aviation hazards, and denies sUAS operators access to the very airspace the FAA allocated for them.

Specifically, the Ordinance defines a “class of pilotless aircraft”, requires that people a) pay a $10 fee to register with the City and b) provide a copy of their FAA registration. Annoying ofr sure but here is the gotcha:

  1. Section (3)(a)(i) of the Ordinance provides that “No pilotless aircraft shall be operated . . . over private property at an altitude below 400 feet without the express permission of the owner of said private property”.

Singer’s complaint is that:

  1. Section 3(a)(v) of the Ordinance interferes with Plaintiff’s federally permitted operation of a sUAS in national airspace over City of Newton property.

And yes, I find it more than a little odd that a private citizen is defending the FAA’s authority to regulate the national airspace. Hoping to have a chance to spend some time with Marke “Hoot” Gibson when we are together at the Energy Drone Coalition Summit next week to get his take on all of this.

After hearing from the parties, the Court took the matter under advisement.

While Dr. Singer filed his complaint in January 2017, Newton’s ordinance is turning out to be a “worst case scenario” preview of what the proposed Drone Federalism Act is intended to enable. Totally random but I just got an update from the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), that talks about everything but her Act. Go figure.

Of course, worried town fathers can point to this week’s bozo maneuver in the tony Silicon Valley town of Mountain View where a “White-haired white man driving a white car flew a (white?) drone into a high-voltage wire” as reason enough for there to be local rules. The little oops blacked out power to 1,600
PG&E customers. added a telling quote from the local FD that in a few words demonstrates the disconnect between local agencies and national regulations.

We do not know at this point if the operator of the drone notified officials that they planned to fly it last night.”

Seriously folks – who ya gonna call? Plus, the bozo was within five miles of Moffett Field, home of NASA Ames who like you know does UTM. You can’t make this stuff up.

Next week the newest ARC goes into action to begin wrestling with the problem of electronic identification. Patrick Egan is waving a big red caution flag Why Should Congress Wait for Drone Advisory Committee Secrets?

“It has not been made public what the “advocates” are advocating for. However, they are urging Congress to take their word that they know better. Don’t you think that the Congress and the public should be let in on the secret?”

With everything that is happening on at least five task forces, it is more than a fair question. The disconnect between operators in the field and our un-elected representatives is growing.

The sky has been smoky all week here in Taos so I was happy to hear from Director of Aviation for the Department of Interior (DOI), Mark Bathrick who got in touch to let me know that the If You Fly, We Can’t wildfire awareness campaign has a new initiative, #KnowWhereNotToGo.

The program will “Expand and enhance DOI’s wildfire location data-sharing program for 2017. The new service being offered is called “Current Wildland Fires” and is accessible through the Geoplatform ArcGIS Online Organization.” You can get the details here.

There are some 73,000 wildfires every year. Information about each is rolled up through the Integrated Reporting of Wildland-Fire Information (IRWIN) service and displayed on the map. The data is free to individuals and also to software developers. Last year AirMap and Skyward both ran pilot programs.

Mark drew an interesting analogy to National Weather Service data, pointing out that it took third-party developers to make weather data broadly accessible. As he put it “In my experience, government isn’t very good at developing user-friendly systems and interfaces that provide a delightful user experience.  Figure if we make the data available, enterprising folks in industry will make it work for the users who can benefit from it.

Mark sent along a picture with his new boss, Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, who visited him at the Boise office for a drone mapping demo. DOI now operates some 230 drones supporting a wide range of initiatives. A USGS team recently used a drone to create a 3D map of Devils Tower National Monument. Mark told me that they did the work in 1/7th the time at 1/10th the cost – with greatly reduced risk to life and limb. The story and videos are here.

Later I ran across a story by Betsy Lillian, Colorado Governor Green-Lights Drone Initiative for Public Safety. She quoted the bill’s sponsor who said that “More and more money is being invested in drone technology; this bill studies how that new technology can help Colorado fight wildfires. Drones have tremendous potential to survey ground and relay data without the cost of manned aircraft and the risk of putting pilots in the sky.”

So I sent it over to Mark who wrote back saying that “The DOI likes to collaborate with our State partners on issues of mutual interest, like this.” An amazing amount of interagency cooperation and coordination goes into fighting wildfires. offers up 6 Reasons Why Drone Delivery Is Total BS. Though a concise recital of the challenges, there is no real news here. I bring it up because of the marvelous counterpoint it provides to another of their stories Russian Bank Plans To Deliver Cash By Drones in Kazan which is some 800 klicks from Moscow.

Overall the money flying from point A to point B is great idea, but handing nets, or shooting drone with cash down (with AK-47) idea is even greater.” Yep – sounds like a perfect place for CUAS boot camp.

In ISIS drones are attacking U.S. troops and disrupting airstrikes in Raqqa, officials say, WaPo explains that the ISIS drone jockeys have once again upped their game. The tactics are getting more sophisticated, the tempo is up and the use of swarms is apparently becoming more common place. U.S. targeting teams are now being forced to dedicate one man to spot drones.

Meanwhile in Oakland, Recode’s April Glaser reports a nice win for Dedrone. Security at the Warriors’ NBA championship parade can detect rogue drones.

“Dedrone’s sensors are installed along the parade route. And while the system isn’t designed to take a rogue drone down, it does the hard work of detecting where the small flying robot is, so security on the ground can choose to jam its signal, intercept it or investigate whether or not the drone is a threat. The system can also detect if the drone is capable of carrying a potentially hazardous payload.

Dedrone will be at the EDC Summit. Looking forward to meeting the team.

A couple of great pieces from the Harvard Business Review that I’ve been trying to find room for. First, Drones Go To Work by 3DR’s Chris Anderson. IMHO Chris is a gifted writer and this article shows that he hasn’t lost his touch.  

“Take humans out of the loop, and suddenly aircraft look more like the birds that inspired them: autonomous, small, and countless; born for the air and able to navigate it tirelessly and effortlessly. We are as yet tourists in the air, briefly visiting it at great cost. By breaking the link between man and machine, we can occupy
the skies.” 

Great stuff.

Also a highly actionable article by Trumbull Unmanned’s CEO, Dyan Gibbens, who will be presenting at the Energy Drone Coalition Summit. Grounded: How To Integrate Ethics Into Your Drone Strategy takes a fresh approach.

What a drone can do is less interesting than what a drone should or shouldn’t do. I have been amazed to see the innovative time-, cost-, and life-saving uses for drones, but digital ethics is an often-overlooked area.”

And how about this?

If you don’t trust your drone, you’re not alone. If you do trust it, you should think about why.”

According to, “GE Ventures announced the launch of Avitas Systems, a new company that will use predictive data analytics, robotics, and artificial intelligence to deliver advanced inspection services to the oil and gas, transportation, and energy industries.”

You might remember that GE Ventures was an early investor in Airware for exactly this purpose. I covered that as part of 5 Valuable Lessons Learned About Drones In Asset and Infrastructure Inspection written for InterDrone with Colin Snow. Special thanks to Art Pregler at AT&T, Todd Schlekeway at NATE and Dexter Lewis of Southern who made time to share their experiences with me for the white paper.

Speaking of Airware, props to Jonathan Downey who is doing the hardest thing a founder ever does. He is turning over the reins to Yvonne Wassenaar who joined the company last month as COO. That was fast! Here’s the blog post he wrote explaining his decision.

Also please welcome Ms. Laura Ponto, the new chairman of the Commercial Drone Alliance. As Betsy Lillian reports, Ponto is the head of public policy and regulatory affairs for Project Wing at X, and previously spent more than 10 years in the FAA’s Office of Chief Council. Given the forces at work, the timing couldn’t be better.

If you love airplanes but can’t make it to the Paris Air Show, here’s a peek at what you’ll be missing, New Aircraft On Display At The Paris Air Show.

There is a lot going on with drones at Le Bourget this year. Kratos To Promote Valkyrie, Mako Drones In Paris introduces the next generation of “loyal wingmen.” There is also a more in-depth story about the Kratos UAS in the WaPo courtesy of reader Brad H.

And for those of you whose idea of an airshow is low, slow and strictly analog here’s a video (and sound, glorious sound) of a P-51 Mustang strutting its stuff at the 2017 Gathering of Warbirds in Waukesha, WI.

Thanks for reading and for sharing. You can find all of the back issues of Dronin’ On here.


Christopher Korody
follow me @dronewriter

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