The 'Soaring Twenties' issue of Dronin' On 12.21.19

Hi all –

This is a look at the 2020s, and some of the issues that I think will shape the decade. It’s about getting from here to there – together.

But first a word about Remote ID (RID.) Yesterday, December 20th, the Remote ID NPRM was scheduled to post to the Federal Register. It did not. The old expression ‘the devil is in the details’ applies here. It’s one of those they’ve got to get right. I will have at least one full post when the rule is published.

When it was calendared for the 20th, the public comments period was set to close February 1st. That is less than the 60 days that was allowed for OOP and ANPRM earlier this year, and the 90 days for Part 107. You’ll have to ask them what the rush is after all the delays. You can look for a press release here which will have a link to the NPRM once it’s posted.

Whenever it actually does appear, please take the time to weigh in and post a public comment. We didn’t do so good the last two times around (OOP and the ANPRM) and it does make a difference. But for now, let’s look ahead to our future.

In the next decade, there will be at least two new FAA Administrators (or a reappointment,) two FAA Reauthorization bills and three presidential elections. So, there are plenty of variables at work, as we consider whether this will be the Soaring 20’s for the UAS industry.

I think that much will depend on how three core issues play together.

  1. Public acceptance which includes privacy and jurisdiction.
  2. Regulation which includes all agencies and branches of government.
  3. Standards which are central to adoption and growth.

These are not new issues. Just things that we need to be mindful of, and do what we can to move forward.


2020 UAS drone industry forecastI vacillated between titling this section Public Acceptance which is the challenge, and Privacy which is the underlying issue. So why not both?

As UAS plans become more ambitious, public acceptance becomes key. Will neighbors be happy about the drone delivery next door? Will they pay for it? Will city dwellers welcome UAM landing pads atop their buildings? Will they be able to afford to fly around? Will people trust that they are safe from falling objects? That they are not being spied on? And perhaps most importantly, what about the noise?

The thing to keep in mind is that this isn’t just about drones. It’s about privacy. We are caught in the middle of an extremely contentious debate that touches everyone.

This article in the NYT, Twelve Million Phones, One Dataset, Zero Privacy, is one of a plethora that are creating high stress levels for many people.

They can see the places you go every moment of the day, whom you meet with or spend the night with, where you pray, whether you visit a methadone clinic, a psychiatrist’s office or a massage parlor.

According to a new survey by Morning Consult:

  • 79% said Congress should make crafting a bill to better protect consumers’ online data a priority.
  • And 65% said data privacy is one of the biggest issues our society faces and legislation is needed to stop data breaches.

This quote from Nextgov won’t make anyone feel any better:

Drones may also be more widely weaponized to steal consumer data from public Wi-Fi networks, according to a new report on 2020 data breach trend predictions.

Headlines like 68% of Americans Think Drones Are Not Safe speak to the challenges ahead.

  • 82% think commercial drones used for deliveries will cause a serious accident sooner or later.

While What if a Delivery Drone Falls on Your Head? Thorny Legal Questions Loom as Services Increase hits on three of the key issues:

  • Privacy concerns
  • Liability issues
  • Noise levels

Which brings us to the very large question of jurisdiction. Or how do all the authorities come together. Who will regulate what.

At a 2017 DAC meeting, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said:

“With drones, the entire city in effect becomes an airport, creating issues over zoning, privacy, law enforcement and even job displacement.

“This transformation is big for cities,” Lee said. “They’re going to resist intrusions into their space as opposed to accepting the good [that drones do] and ferreting out in a collaborative way what may be challenging.”

What needs to be worked out is how the ‘rights’ of three groups of
stakeholders balance.

  • The right to navigable airspace.
  • The right of property owners to the enjoyment of their airspace.
  • The right of local citizens and their duly elected representatives to decide what goes on in their towns, counties, and states.

Will some version of Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-UT) recently introduced take on Federalism and state’s rights, packaged as the Drone Integration and Zoning Act get traction?

It recognizes a problem that we are all aware of:

“The FAA cannot feasibly or efficiently oversee millions of drones in every locality throughout the country… The best way to ensure public safety and allow this innovative industry to thrive is to empower the people closest to the ground to make local decisions in real time…”

It is easy to see the appeal of this argument to elected officials, though it’s (rightly) not getting much love. It’s a formula for disaster in the shape of a patchwork quilt.

All of this (and much more) is contributing to the growing realization that if we want the UAS industry to move forward, we are going to have to pay as much attention to policy as we do to technology and operations.

One of the advocates for this is Airbus VP of Public Policy and Government Affairs, Travis Mason who speaking at CUAV said:

There are lots of engineers. But nowhere near enough people working on policy and public relations. We need to put more resources into it, we can’t just invest in hardware. We are seriously underestimating how long it will take to gain public acceptance.”


2020 UAS drone industry forecastThe second ‘BIG’ question in the 2020 UAS industry forecast is, will the FAA finish the job of integrating UAS into the NAS by 2030? It seems risible until you remember that we are already almost 30 years in.

Right now, the spotlight is on Remote ID (RID). But there’s a lot more that needs doing if we are to get to integration. Here are some of the questions I came up with after a quick brainstorming session that need answering.

You will notice two things. First that it is a daunting list that will require considerable investment from private industry. And second that:

The FAA has offered no cohesive roadmap or metrics that industry can use to guide their efforts and investments.

In 2012 Congress passed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which in SEC. 332 instructed the FAA to “…Develop a comprehensive plan to safely accelerate the integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system.”

It is clear that the skill sets and culture necessary to build a world-class safety agency are very different from those required to launch an industry. The FAA is very good at staying in their lane. You will read that they want nothing to do with privacy or CUAS or standards.

This was clearly not the intention of the Hon. Frank LoBiondo, the former chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee who referring to the 2012 bill wrote that:

I instilled the FAA with this authority because only the federal government — working with industry — has the resources and expertise necessary to safely accomplish the monumental task at hand. Bipartisan majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate agreed.”

A few months ago at CUAV, Jarrett Larrow from the FAA’s UAS Integration Office was on the UTM panel. He explained that the FAA wants to follow, not lead. That they do not want to “solve problems” or support the top-down regulatory approach that many in the industry are calling for.

Nice work if you can get it, but being reactive is no way to drive something as “monumental” as this forward. “Bring me a rock, no not that rock” is not leadership.

The impression from the outside is that it’s all very haphazard. Waivers are much easier to write than rules – but waivers do a lot less to advance the industry or to establish performance based standards. Though Congress has called for the process to be more transparent, in fact it’s just more frustrating.

Similarly with Part 135. All happening in a black hole somewhere. No discussion of standards, no effort at aircraft certification which is a core part of BVLOS.

How can you have a delivery airline without Remote ID?

Contrast that with the Swiss approach. FOCA sees themselves as collaborators and co-contributors to achieve national goals.

So let’s look at some of the questions that will need to be answered to achieve integration into the NAS.

First, and I am not trying to be funny, there is a big issue with public acceptance around noise. Electric is better than gas, but nobody likes leaf blowers either.

Here are two recent articles. The first talks about Wing taking the Australian CAA to task saying that is definitely in their court. “We believe the Federal Government should regulate anything that occurs in the air space, and noise should be considered as part of other impacts of that review.”

The second announcement was from EASA at Drone Amsterdam week:

“We have had feedback from other countries around the world where there are regular drone operations that the concern of the population is not that much about privacy, is not that much about safety, but it’s very, very much about noise,” according to European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) Executive Director Patrick Ky, speaking at the recent High-Level Conference on Drones”

Will there be a BVLOS rule (not waivers) built on aircraft certification, safety systems including DAA, secure command and control (C2,) training and maintenance standards and procedures?

How will certification be handled? This in light of MAX and the Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) program which has attracted the attention of a reform-minded Congress; played against the notion of manufacturer

How many UAS manufacturers and developers are actually capable of rigorous testing before they can sell their products?

This is where ideas like NUAIR’S NUSTAR, short for National UAS Standardized Testing And Rating, will play a role not just for certification but also for performance verification for concepts like SORA.

What about the current non-certification of Part 135 drone airline aircraft, which at the very least is a missed opportunity to begin working the problem? There are certainly no agreed-upon industry standards, nor has any attempt been made to develop them. Why not?

There are seven or eight more companies applying for Part 135s – how does the industry advance without shared knowledge?

Will there be autonomous operations? How long will it take developers, engineers and the FAA to figure out how to test and certify these kinds of systems? Deaths in Tesla and Uber vehicles show that even with a man in the loop, this is no easy task.

Once past small quads, will the lines between sUAS and UAS become blurred? Is it reasonable to expect that many of the “high value” (i.e. more lucrative) delivery and BVLOS missions will fall to the larger aircraft that can carry more – be it cargo or sensors or fuel or avionics – and go farther faster in a wider range of conditions?

People also have to be integrated. Will the FAA undertake a vigorous program to inform local law enforcement of the rights of Part 107 pilots so that they are protected, particularly against threats of bodily harm? Their current LEAP initiative puts the focus on local authority and does not advocate for pilots.

Can you imagine somebody threatening a Southwest captain for showing up to do his or her job?

How will UTM evolve? Will RID and LAANC be incorporated into one eventually unified system? Right now plans call for a separate group of RID service providers.

Ten years from now, will there still be a separate ATC at US$15B per annum+? Or will, as some propose, there be a distributed network in which each aircraft, manned and unmanned, makes decisions and deconflicts on the edge?

Will the US join the rest of the world with a harmonized scheme that ensures
global interoperability?

Then, there are three questions that fit under the broader heading of regulatory but not necessarily the FAA.

Will there be a domestic UAS aircraft manufacturing industry?

The prohibition against the DOD buying foreign drones is incorporated in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) bill (p. 2964) which awaits the President’s signature.

DOD Under Secretary of Defense, Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Ellen Lord has identified the need for a domestic solution:

Lord said that DoD also is looking at how to use the industrial base support fund to pump up NTIB capacity to produce small unmanned aircraft systems — “an area that has been decimated in terms of our supply base by basically dumping in the US market of very low cost drones from Chinese companies such as DJI.”

At CUAV, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine “…framed drone progress as an issue of national prestige and economic success, a view that meshes with President Donald Trump’s focus on increasing the nation’s trade surplus.”

Some time ago President Trump issued a Memorandum on Presidential Determination Pursuant to Section 303 of the Defense Production Act of 1950 to support it.

This week, former Republican Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson wrote an op-ed in WaPo, We’re Letting China Win the 5G Race. It’s Time to Catch Up. What he writes is as relevant to UAS as it is to 5G.

The United States is losing the commercialization race, a failure of our own making. We must urgently confront these shortcomings to make up for lost time and opportunity.

So where does that leave us?

Memorandum or no memorandum, it will be a tall order to develop technology and product(s) – that is why so many organizations favor COTS. Who will lead this? Will there be a Joint Service solution or will each branch need their own?
(Sound familiar?)

To get to product the supplier will have to hire and train a workforce, build a supply chain, develop the necessary partnerships and deliver enough units for an ecosystem to grow around it. And then there will be the question of whether it’s something that can be sold under ITAR to help reimburse the taxpayer.

This project has the potential to create a huge opportunity. The DOD will want to build a drone that is not only cybersecure, but better than the DJI it is meant to replace. Stealthier. Or at least sneakier (see that noise thing again.) With more range. Better DAA. More lift. More flexible sensor packages – say a FLIR bombsight. More survivable – incoming, outgoing, I didn’t see it sir. More maintainable – dust, Marines and crashes. All in all, mo’ bettah.

Good article here, US Is Moving Too Slowly to Harness Drones and AI, Former SOCOM Commander Says.

Every one of those specifications will have to be developed, tested and sourced. With the exception of some of the cybersecurity and the price, a lot of it would make for a mighty fine domestic drone. Wouldn’t it make sense for the FAA to be part of that process and use that knowledge and all those taxpayer dollars to advance the civilian side of the house?

In addition to the NDAA, both the Senate S.2502, and the House H.R. 5125 have introduced The American Drone Security Act which reads:

No Federal funds… may be used to purchase a commercial off-the-shelf drone or covered unmanned aircraft system, or a system to counter unmanned aircraft systems… that is manufactured or assembled by a covered foreign entity.

If the American Drone Security Act or something like it passes, what happens to all of the government agencies that rely on federal funding to buy the units they need for public safety, scientific research, and other non-military missions?

In particular, such a ban would hit public safety very hard. A recent DRONERESPONDERS survey shows that 77% of all public safety agencies fly DJI.

A new study reports that the UK Public Sector Could Save £1.1bn by Using Drones, noting that “…Emergency services would be the sector helped most by drones.”

Finally, this week the GAO released a new report, FAA Should Improve Drone-Related Cost Information and Consider Options to Recover Costs which was ordered up as part of the 2018 Reauthorization. It is certainly not a new topic. Congress has asked this question before.

DAC Task Group 3 did a bang-up job analyzing options in a report entitled Drone Integration Options that was delivered in March 2018 and then apparently was promptly put in a drawer.

If the administration wants to ensure that aviation remains on the plus side of the ledger; there needs to be a partnership based on transparency and common goals between industry and government. There will also need to be financial support for UAS and UAM and the enabling systems like UTM. To the extent that this is a “monumental undertaking” it has to be a national commitment.

We used to teach that hope is not a strategy.

Hoping that someone chooses to invest in some critical piece of the integration puzzle is no way to advance the industry or to leverage willing partners. Imagine the progress if documents like the Integration of Civil Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in the National Airspace System (NAS) Roadmap were turned into
actionable plans.

Given that more than three-quarters of a trillion-plus dollars will be spent supporting defense and subsidizing fossil fuels in 2020; it is clear that dollars are available to create the future of aviation.

Moving on, secure spectrum is a poorly understood, seldom discussed but very real chokepoint. Without it, there can be no secure C2 (command and control) and one assumes no BVLOS in the NAS.

Will there be an international spectrum allocation from the World Radio Conference? If so, it will be 2022 or 2026 before they meet to discuss this. What about the FCC? You can see the catfight they are currently engaged in with DOT over 5.9Ghz spectrum. What role will LTE and 5G play?

And finally, what about CUAS? The “put the genie back in the bottle” trick. Never mind the careless and the clueless. What about the criminal and the
non-state actor?

The FAA has done all they can to eschew responsibility. At the time Acting Administrator Daniel Elwell said at an aviation industry event:

“There have been proposals in the past and discussions about the FAA being responsible not only for detection of drones but mitigating drones around airports. And I will tell you, as long as I’m working at the FAA, I’m frankly gonna fight to not have the FAA take things out of the sky.”

OK. But what will be protected? The Blue Ribbon Task Force Report on UAS Mitigation at Airports (BRTF) raises more questions than it answers.

…The position of the FAA and other US. federal agencies [is] that the government does not have the authority, capital, or human resources to invest in and operate UAS detection systems on and near airports. The situation is very much the same
in Canada.

It is already clear that the FAA’s notion of using air marshals for airport CUAS is a non-starter. “If Congress had wanted to provide specific (counter-UAS) authority to TSA, it would have done so.”

I am astonished that the government wants to build drones but is (apparently) unwilling to spend the money necessary to protect commercial aviation. It creates over 10 million jobs and generates nearly $1.5 trillion – or 5% of the GDP. The NAS is one of the crown jewels of the American economy.

Lest you think nobody wants a piece of this, don’t miss this juicy bit from Bard College Counter Drone Systems 2nd Edition that is making the rounds and
raising eyebrows:

The second edition of the Center’s Counter-Drone Systems report lists 537 CUAS systems marketed by 227 companies in 38 countries, up from 235 in the first edition published in February 2018.

Beyond airports, the FAA has SEC. 2209 from the 2016 extension on the rule making calendar for late 2020. Currently in the proposed rule stage, “…This rule would establish the criteria and procedures for the operator or proprietor of eligible fixed-site facilities to apply to the FAA for a UAS-specific flight restriction.”

While 2209 was not intended to address interdiction, the implication of the BRTF report is that no investment will be made to protect such facilities either. And it is abundantly clear that interdiction will not be handed down to state and local agencies in the foreseeable future.

And finally, in the interests of completeness, when will the FAA complete the job of defining a Community Based Organization (CBO), finalizing the recreational test and providing the recreational community the clarity it deserves? The real modelers who have been flying responsibly forever under 91-47 got screwed. The careless, the clueless, Best Buy and the online e-tailers got a free pass. Recreational fliers/modelers/hobbyists are certainly part of the NAS. It’s been well over a year – time to clean that up. Especially since numerically compliance with RID is highly dependent on their goodwill.


2020 UAS drone industry forecastWhich brings us to the third question in the 2020 UAS industry forecast. Will UAS cross the chasm and become mainstream?

In very short order, the industry has proved the business case in energy, construction, insurance, public safety and perhaps agriculture. There is no longer any question about the value of a private eye in the sky. No one is surprised that when a company pilots a drone program they get good results, find more ways to use them and continue to invest. All this in a little over three years. Wow.

The real question is, are there more verticals sitting on the sidelines waiting to start pilot programs?

Or, and it is entirely possible, are the existing verticals the only ones that will be heavy users until we get to autonomous operations? As terrific as a private eye is, I am not convinced that everyone needs one.

2020 UAS industry forecast technology adoption curve

The key to expanding the existing customer base, as well as bringing new industries into the community is standards. Having been in the tech business since the ’70s, I have been greatly influenced by Geoffrey Moore’s seminal work on technology adoption, Crossing The Chasm which was first published in 1991. I first wrote about this in 2016, Why Standards Will Be Critical to UAV Adoption.

As you can see in the graphic, Moore posits that the Pragmatist buyer wants a fully integrated, turnkey solution that will provide measurable incremental improvements to his existing business. NB, that customer is not looking to change or reinvent their business, they just want to make it work better. Equally important is that the solution has been tried and endorsed by industry peers which typically narrows the field to three competitors. The cautionary part of the tale is that until the Pragmatist can buy exactly what they want, they are happy to sit on
the sidelines.

Listening to Tom Walker from DroneUp and different people from Measure at the conferences this year, it is pretty clear that every engagement still involves developing a bespoke solution. Some of this is because customers are not familiar with, and are often put off by the complexity of flight regulation and operation. The rest of it seems to revolve around data issues. It seems that these companies are as much software workflow consultants as they are service providers. Which is smart – it’s the opportunity to demonstrate the value.

For the foreseeable future, I think we will be to the left of the Chasm. As part of that same article, I designed what I call The db.c UAV Industry Standards Stack. As you can see, there is a wide gamut of issues to be addressed.

2020 UAS industry forecast standards stack

Standards committees are making real progress. ASTM did the Parachute standard, the Remote ID technical standard pretty much done and the FAA wants them to write an airworthiness standard. ISO has just announced the first in what will be a series of standards. The JARUS Guidelines on Specific Operations Risk Assessment (SORA) is a great idea that is quickly gaining broad acceptance.

In industry, the American Petroleum Institute published a set of industry standards. DRONERESPONDERS is focused on standardized training and certifications, and AUVSI rolled out its Trusted Operator Program (TOP) certification program. NATE continues its excellent work and the Department of Interior continues to roll out a variety of programs. This is exciting progress in three years.

I do think that there are some real questions to be answered about the business impact of BVLOS and UTM. I link them together because BVLOS will not happen without UTM. And there is no real need for UTM if you are flying line of sight.

Who needs UTM if you have to pay someone to watch your drone fly its pre-programmed course?

Thinking about BVLOS is a tricky thing. My mind immediately goes to drones flying through desolate landscapes over hundreds of miles of track and pipe and wire. To silent freighters hauling their loads between sea and sky. Relentless, unblinking eyes in the sky; efficiently navigating, dodging aircraft and landing wherever the algorithm takes them.

But I also remember a conversation that I had with some execs from Parrot at InterDrone. When the topic came up, I asked them how far do your customers want to go? And the answer was, oh maybe a mile or two. Across the quad or the complex or the job site.

So there are going to be degrees. Of sophistication. Reliability. Security. And of course, degrees of risk mitigation. To say nothing of the cost of entry
and operations.

Shoot me if you want to, but from what I see today I don’t think that BVLOS is going to transform the industry. The mechanical requirements alone – bigger more reliable powerplants, extended range, DAA, secure C2, improved airworthiness to deal with weather, more onboard storage and processing, as well as in some cases distributed charging and support; all suggest that it will be a specialized, high
dollar subset.

BVLOS is a manned aircraft operation  without the man.

Meeting the performance envelope will likely require purpose-built aircraft optimized for specific types of missions, along with accompanying training and maintenance protocols. Such an investment typically does not begin until there are some standards, a certification process and probably an international market. My money is on Airbus, Boeing and Lockheed and the other aircraft manufacturers who know how to sail the regulatory seas and don’t have to begin with an empty page.

For short-range BVLOS, flying across the quad so to speak, all we are going to do is legitimize what (some) people are already doing. The economic lift there will not be great because you can use your DJI. Help me out, but I can’t think of a use case that hasn’t happened because of the extra mile.

“Of course I can see it – it’s right there.”

It’s a reminder of the happy intersection of small quad capabilities and
Part 107 rules.

UTM is an equally interesting thing. The concept of federation is a truly elegant idea built on standards. It’s like a mutual assistance pact that only the government or special interests can screw up.

Today it’s the only way that any of this can scale. It takes the vast majority of the FAA’s 49,000 people to support 5,000 flights per day. That, as economists like to say, is not going to fly.

I just sat in on a webinar given by Auterion co-founder Lorenz Meier last week. Having worked with them in the late ‘90’s, I was struck by his comparison to Red Hat which formalized Linux distributions and opened the way to corporate adoption of open-source code. Auterion’s goal is very much the same. To “…Build an open-source operating system for enterprise drones.”

As with BVLOS, there is a big financial question that no one has answered. Currently, the FAA lists 21 approved LAANC UAS Service Suppliers (USS). Most are large corporations, some are multi-national, some Fortune 500. I have been told that most applied because LAANC is seen as a stepping stone to UTM.

The active companies (the majority of the 21 are currently not providing service to the public) all provide the exact same airspace authorization. All use maps that are provided by the FAA. All hope to differentiate a non-differentiated product with additional software to facilitate mission management and create documentation to demonstrate compliance.

Here too, it is clear that there will be no government investment. So what is the business case?

I haven’t seen any forecasts and I haven’t done any research but using common sense, I suspect that the forecasts are built assuming huge numbers of autonomous, delivery and UAM flights. Given the pace of regulatory progress, the issues of public acceptance and the question of jurisdictions I have no way to project it. It will be interesting to see how U-Space is utilized since the EU is ahead on BVLOS and other issues.

Whatever happens, it’s got to start small and the competitors will have to survive until it comes to scale. As my old client and mentor then Apple Computer CEO John Sculley used to say when we were launching the Macintosh computer way back in ’84, it’s all about achieving critical mass. That never changes.


2020 UAS drone industry forecastIn closing, I am always happy to pass on Mark Dombroff’s wisdom:

If you want to know what UAS will look like in ten years, look at manned aviation today.”

The Soaring Twenties are the next step in a massive transformation as we work to define a more sustainable future. UAS is a new idea, born of new technologies and skills that are evolving in parallel around the world. It is truly the NextGen. Whether or not you agree with everything I wrote, there is still a tremendous amount to do. None of us can do it alone, but all of us can do it together.

It will be the Soaring Twenties when we can find a way to come together to tell a consistent story about the future. A story about how our technology can save lives, spare lives and change lives. About how we can do more with less to benefit everyone; without violating anyone’s rights or taking away their choices. And about the kids who will be inspired to continue our work.

My best wishes to each of you and yours for a safe and joyous Holiday and a rewarding new decade. Thank you for your support. It is heartening to know that my words have found their way to so many amazing places around the world.


Christopher Korody
Editor and Publisher
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