The TCP/IP of the Sky issue of Dronin' On 09.30.17
World’s first freight drone – Photo/Official Sina Weibo account of China Daily

Hi all –

Last week I headlined the collision between a drone and an Army helicopter over Staten Island which reportedly occurred at 500’ AGL. A TFR was in place. The helo landed safely and a piece of the drone was recovered. The FAA said that despite thousands of reported close calls and near misses, this was the first confirmed incident of a drone hitting a manned aircraft in flight. There has been very little press coverage, multiple investigations are said to be underway. Just wanted you to know that it wasn’t #fakenews.


Only Congress could turn an extension into a nail-biter. The Hill reports that the House finally passed legislation Thursday extending the FAA for another six months. The bill, which includes a passel of hurricane relief provisions, is headed for an uncertain reception in the Senate.

“Yeah, I think there will be [changes],” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, told reporters on Thursday. “There aren’t the votes in the Senate. They’ll block it. And with the short timeline we have to work with, that’s not a good outcome.”

Morning Transport finishes the tale, Six Months More For The FAA:

Quick play-by-play: The House passed the legislative package (H.R. 3823 (115)) that included the FAA extension by a vote of 264-155 on Thursday morning. The Senate passed the bill including an amendment from Republican Sens. Bill Cassidy, Mike Rounds and John Kennedy to strip a contentious title on private flood insurance. The House finally cleared it before 5 p.m., a couple days before the FAA’s authorization was set to expire.

Entirely separate from the extension, but a factor in the House version of Reauthorization (which could see the House floor in October) is the issue of privatization. A major industry publication, Air Transport World, ran an editorial headlined Analysis: Administration’s Sloppy ATC Rhetoric Hurts Chance for Reform that gets to one of the underlying issues.

ATC reform that includes spinning off air traffic management from FAA will probably happen eventually in the US. But only when a White House well versed on the issue and careful in its rhetoric is able to assure nervous lawmakers that general aviation is not being sold out and ATC is not being turned over to a for-profit corporation. So far, that is not this White House. 

Under the heading of things that should come back to haunt you is a new report by Jason Koebler in Motherboard, FOIA: How Police Convinced the FAA to Put a No Fly Zone Over Standing Rock. This is something that I covered in depth in Remove the TFR Over Standing Rock.

The gist of the new story is:

Motherboard obtained nearly 100 pages of emails between the FAA and federal, state, and local officials, detailing their attempts to misrepresent demonstrators as violent criminals to obtain extended flight restrictions.

Throughout the 98 pages, law enforcement on the ground describes the situation in much the same way one would describe a war zone. It’s worth noting that incidents of violence by law enforcement far outnumber any that could be connected
to demonstrators.

The enduring image in my mind is of an officer shooting at a drone to “protect” a nearby helicopter – wonder how the pilot felt about that?

I hope that the FAA will reconsider how it goes about evaluating requests for TFRs. Remember that with the TFR the requesting agency gets control of the airspace… This is absolutely a First Amendment issue.

Despite the recent ruling against Newton, MA, cities continue to be hell-bent on restating FAA regulations and topping them off with a local fine – one supposes to pay enforcement costs. This time it is quad megalopolis South Sioux City. The Sioux City Journal has the story.

City Administrator Lance Hedquist said he knows of several local drone users, and the city wanted to put in place local guidelines on the books to protect residents’ rights to safety and privacy. 

“The real issue is privacy,” he said. “Can I take and have a drone look through your window? Most people would say no.”

Hedquist said there had not been any specific instances locally that led to the city’s ordinance, but it grows out of an awareness of incidents nationwide. [Of which there are precious few.]

Following a Twitter link, I stumbled across a panel on aviation cybersecurity at an Air Traffic Control Association (ATCA) conference in June. Low Altitude UAS Cybersecurity included presentations by the FAA, DHS, FBI and the USAF.

The presentations provide a look at how the problem is perceived by key US stakeholders. Here’s one highlight from each deck:

  • FAA – End-to-End security needs to be part of an overall Defense in Depth strategy
  • DHS – Provide increased air support to agents and first responders as needed
  • FBI – Balance; Drone Threat v. Response Danger
  • USAF – Need to assess threats from UAS as well as threats to UAS


One reason I brought up the ATCA panel is to provide a context for the discussions that took place at ICAO’s Drone Enable Unmanned Aircraft Systems Symposium in Montreal this week. You can find all of the sessions on YouTube using #DroneEnable. Thanks to Amit Ganjoo, one of the presenters, for the links.

I think that the industry has found our poet in Jonathan Evans, the Co-President of Skyward and the President of the Global UTM Association, generally known

If you do one thing this weekend, I recommend that you cue up this video to 24:15 and spend 10 minutes listening to Jonathan’s presentation. Here is a big idea. Like the Internet, the UTM is a concept, not a thing. What is needed is an interoperability blueprint Evans calls the TCP/IP of the sky. It is an inspiring vision that brings the technical bits and pieces together into a unified whole.

If you are into the technology there is plenty more for you. Just wind back to Amit’s presentation at 16:49 where you can learn that every drone could have a unique IMEI number just like your cellphone.

There are actually two links for this topic. In the midst of this rather august global gathering, DJI’s Director of Technical Standards, Walter Stockwell took the opportunity to say that:

“Rather than develop complicated new systems using untested technology, DJI believes industry and government can address these challenges with equipment available today and without requiring every drone flight to be permanently recorded in a government database.”

You can see the presentation here.

DJI offered up two whitepapers which, if I might simplify, advocate a low-tech, KISS (keep it simple stupid) approach to the problem. The first was an update to their March proposal for remote identification. According to Avionics’ report:

DJI believes existing technologies can be used for electronic identification for small drones. Existing command-and-control radio or Wi-Fi links could be used to transmit a registration number and other information, according to the manufacturer.

The article quotes Stockwell as saying:

“No other technology is subject to mandatory industry-wide tracking and recording of its use, and we strongly urge against making (drones) the first such technology. The case for such an Orwellian model has not been made.”

The second, Unmanned Traffic Self-Management: How Smart Drones Will Find Their Own Way In the Airspace starts by noting – and I am paraphrasing liberally – gee look there are gazillions of drones up there and nothing bad has happened. VLOS is part of UTM. So, what are you so worried about?

Pay careful attention to this next paragraph since it basically advocates multiple standards in order to fast track their own solution.

Access to airspace should be related to operational risk, and where necessary, aircraft equipage.  Not every aircraft needs to be a participant in an unmanned traffic control system just as not all manned traffic participate in air traffic
control systems.

The pitch which is beguiling in its promise is:

We envision a future in which drones will be smart enough to navigate safely through the airspace, avoiding obstacles, each other, and manned traffic, all on their own, in most locations. This will be achieved through two primary
technology paths: 

(1) vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) traffic awareness communicated by direct radio protocols; and  

(2) highly capable environmental sensors (such as vision, LIDAR and others) to sense and avoid obstacles, other airborne objects, and as redundancy for the V2V communication system.

Collectively, we refer to these two primary technologies as Onboard Anti-collision Technologies (OATs).

And the none too startling conclusion:

“Because onboard anti-collision technologies are less complex than an end-to-end automated traffic management system, because they present fewer points of failure, and because they can be deployed with no required investment in ground-based infrastructure, we expect these technologies will receive regulatory approval well before a networked UTM system will.”

Which leaves us all with a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand we have a global group of aviation and technology experts who are building one of the world’s most elaborate mousetraps. The next gen beyond NextGen. They are doing this because in their collective wisdom they believe that is what it will take to satisfy an increasingly concerned group of regulators who see the opportunity, but are also wrestling with the implications.

On the other hand, DJI has more drones in the air and knows more about what people do with small drones than anyone in the world. Despite their willingness to partner (meaning you use our SDK and sign our EULA,) it seems clear that their approach would be likely to discourage potential competitors from entering the market. It might also retard development in areas they don’t want to support.

Still, a part of me wants to believe that they know something… As I have said before, in the case of electronic identification they are the ones who will have to build it and put it on their drones. Which at least for now are the majority of those in operation around the world.

Here’s a for instance of why this matters. China Daily reports that World’s First ‘Freight Drone’ Will Take to the Sky in China Next Month. Take a look at the picture at the top of the page – it is a single-engine aircraft that would normally carry six or more passengers modified to be a small cargo liner.

This type of drone needs to be integrated into the sovereign NAS and regulated by a consistent set of rules – which is what ICAO is struggling with and DJI is proposing to skip by in the interests of advancing their own vision by saying that not everything needs to be regulated.

It’s hard to argue with the logic – and it may be the way things turn out. The question is does that decision come out of a larger discussion.

What is for sure, is that the entire industry hangs on developing one or more solutions that are acceptable to the sovereign stakeholders.


sUAS News reports that Drone Volt Rescues Aerialtronics. Drone Volt is a French manufacturer, Aerialtronics is of course the innovative Dutch company that has fallen on hard times. Hope this works out well.

Betsy Lillian reports that Airbus Aerial Tries Out Drone, Satellite Combo for Utility Inspections. This is pretty cool stuff and suggests a way to lower the cost of drone inspection data. Jesse Kallman, president of Airbus Aerial explained:

In this case, we were able to image an entire portion of the state of Georgia by satellite, identify the need areas along the lines where maintenance issues could occur, then used BVLOS drone inspections to determine how to remedy the issue.”

Earlier this month, top US officials got together at the second annual Fedstival (really) to take “An unprecedented look at the new administration’s agenda in management, workforce and IT innovation.”

Mark Bathrick, Director of Aviation for the Department of Interior kicked off the event on Tuesday with a presentation entitled “Drones for Good,” the story of “airborne IT transformation.” Mark was kind enough to send along a link to his presentation. There are some pretty compelling numbers here – to date the DOI has racked up 7,000 flights totaling over 1,200 hours by some 200 qualified operators.

The head of the DOI UAS Team, Bradley Koeckeritz, will be on the Drone Response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma panel next week at Drone World Expo which I am moderating.


Some really crazy videos this week.

This Footage of a Drone Buzzing a Cargo Train Turned My Stomach Inside Out. You know what, it actually will. Apparently, the pilot, an FPV racer named Paul Nurkala, has a Part 107 which elicited a certain amount of discussion along the lines of he should know better. He should. But it’s still pretty amazing.

Now that you are good and queasy you are ready for Have You Seen This? Coaster-chasing With Drones. This one was at least done under carefully controlled conditions as a promo for a French amusement park. The reporter notes that:

The park is clearly closed, and each participant is wearing full-face helmets and other protective gear. In the spirit of this example of reason and safety, please use your drones responsibly.

At the totally irresponsible end of the spectrum, Drone Hits Woman by Pool. Turns out that a young lady lounging by the sixth-floor pool at the ultra-chic Palms Place Resort in Las Vegas ended up in the hospital after a drone flown by a hotel guest crashed into her, and gashed her leg wide open resulting in an unplanned hospital visit. Upon impact, the LiPo battery apparently burst into flame torching the chaise lounge… To add insult to injury, the operator, who was asked to leave the bulding, was within five miles of McCarran Airport.

You just can’t make this stuff up.

That’s it for this week – do you know the way to San Jose?

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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