The Time to Step It Up issue of Dronin' On 04.28.18

Hi all –

Another interesting week as we head into AUVSI and what will be a spate of announcements. Thanks for all the positive feedback on Jim Williams’ terrific guest post, 336: The Great Model Airplane Conundrum. I am looking forward to his session Tuesday morning, Unlocking the Actual ROI for Commercial Drones. Anyone who can offer insight into this has my attention.

This week H.R. 4 rolled through the House, details and reactions on 336, DJI’s new report, a ‘Think About It” collection plus coming attractions.


H.R. 4 went to the Rules Committee with some 200+ amendments, which were whittled down to 116. Debate began on the House floor Thursday. In two and a half hours – including a recess – the House passed H.R. 4 “en gros” – meaning that they accepted almost all of the 100+ amendments on a single voice vote.

There were two amendments proposing modifications to Section 336, Amendments #136 and #160. As one source close to the Hill explained:

The House just passed the FAA Reauthorization bill.  It includes both the DeFazio (136) and the Sanford (160) amendments reforming section 336.  The idea is to provide a bit more time for the two sides to work out a compromise.  I’m not optimistic that it is possible given the fundamentally different demands of the commercial & manned industries vs. the hobbyists.

AUVSI once again ducked the whole thing in their Friday evening press release, taking no position on either 136 or 160. Small UAV Coalition applauded the fact that the House made any progress at all and came out in support of 136 and as you will see opposed to 160.

This was not the win that the commercial industry needed. It is time to step it up and do what we can to secure our mutual future.


Ranking Member Peter De Fazio’s (D-OR) Amendment 136 is the one we need to get behind.

Betsy Lillian has a helpful breakdown, FAA Reauthorization Amendment Seeks Section 336 Reform. Here are the key beats:

  • Operators may fly small UAS “without specific certification or operating authority from the [FAA]” if the aircraft is flown strictly for hobbyist purposes; it is “operated in accordance with or within the programming of a community-based set of safety”; is flown within the visual line of sight; and it does not interfere with manned aircraft or fly in restricted airspace without prior authorization.

There should be nothing to object to here – it’s pretty much the rules as they exist.

  • The operator to pass an “aeronautical knowledge and safety test” administered online by the FAA.

A lot of people are happy that people won’t have to drive to an FAA test site. Presumably the test/license will be less expensive as well. No selling $150 tests to this crowd.

  • The aircraft is registered with the FAA, with proof of registration available to the FAA or law enforcement upon request.

I am not sure how this is different from the current rule, probably the law enforcement provision.

  • “Nothing in this section prohibits the [FAA] from promulgating rules generally applicable to unmanned aircraft,” including model aircraft… and “other standards consistent with maintaining the safety and security of the National Airspace System.”

This enables the FAA to develop rules for Remote ID and other issues that will inevitably come up. It does not mean that the FAA can draft rules without going through the rule making process.

I would think that the AMA should be able to live with this. Not quite the current Wild West, but they still have their precious carve out and should be able to sell it to their members which has got to be their driving concern.

DeFazio’s amendment has earned the support of the Commercial Drone Alliance who released Statement of Support for DeFazio Amendment to Reform Section 336 saying in part:

This reform is critical to ensure the safety and security of the national airspace. Other amendments that have been offered to reform Section 336 do not achieve the same safety, security and pro-innovation effect.


Amendment 160 was proposed by Reps. Mark Sanford (R-SC) and Rodney Davis (R-IL) and reflects the none too fine hand of the retail industry and the AMA. One can argue that this actually makes the 336 problem even more insoluble:

If you want to be concerned, read on:

MAINTAINING BROAD ACCESS TO UAS TECHNOLOGY.—When issuing rules or regulations for the operation of UAS under this section, the Administrator
shall not:

  • (1) require the pilot or operator of the UAS to obtain or hold an airman certificate;
  • (2) require a practical flight examination, medical examination, or the completion of a flight training program;
  • (3) limit such UAS operations to pre-designated fixed locations or uncontrolled airspace; or
  • (4) require airworthiness certification of any UAS operated pursuant to
    this section.

(d) COLLABORATION.—The Administrator shall carry out this section in collaboration with industry and community-based organizations.

Can someone please explain to me when model airplanes became UAS?

Also interesting is this proposal to reduce the existing five-mile radius to three:

  • (F) when flown within 3 miles of an airport, the operator of the aircraft provides the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport) with prior notice of
    the operation.)

Of interest is this nod to LAANC:

  • (b) AUTOMATED INSTANT AUTHORIZATION.—When the FAA has established a fully operational and functional automated instant authorization and notification system, the model aircraft operator shall use this system for access to controlled airspace…

So here we are all moving towards some kind of universal Remote ID/UTM concept to deal with millions and jillions of drones and the AMA doesn’t have to comply? Nuts.

And you are guaranteed to like this one:

  • (e) (4) …May provide a comprehensive set of safety rules and programming for the operation of unmanned aircraft that have the advanced flight capabilities enabling active, sustained, and controlled navigation of the aircraft beyond visual line of sight of the operator.

In other words, the law gives 336 members the right to fly BVLOS under rules defined by the CBO. Hello?

The Small UAV Coalition has put out an Amendment Scorecard.

The Coalition appreciates any effort to enable all UAS operators to safely and efficiently operate in the national airspace. However, the Coalition is concerned that in its current form, this amendment does not provide the FAA with the flexibility it needs to achieve this goal. The Coalition welcomes the opportunity to continue to engage with all stakeholders to find a solution that will meet the needs of UAS operators, the FAA, and the national security and law enforcement communities.


Last week, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) came out in support of the Commercial Drone Alliance position. Earlier this week, Morning Transportation shared excerpts of an interview they did with ALPA President Tim Canoll.

On the union’s take on Section 336, regarding model aircraft: “We need to strip [section] 336 completely out so that everyone can be conformed. The hobbyists don’t have anything to fear because if they’re operating in accordance with good, safe practices, then everything… It’s the nonconforming hobbyists that should have something to fear: the person that’s potentially violating rules or doesn’t know the rules that’s going to have to become compliant.

Cannoll also offered his thoughts on CUAS you might want to look at.

Fast forward a couple of days and Morning Transportation reports that the AMA is trying to have their cake and eat it too:

NOT SO FAST: The Academy of Model Aeronautics is firing back at the Air Line Pilots Association. “Contrary to ALPA’s assertion regarding Section 336, the provision does not apply to all hobbyists who fly drones and model aircraft — it applies to a small subset of hobbyists who have been flying safely and responsibly for more than 80 years,” the group said. AMA said it would support “tweaks” to narrow the provision and clarify who it covers.

Hard to say what their end game looks like – again much of this has to be red meat for the membership.

Jeremiah Karpowicz interviewed Lisa Ellman, Co-Executive Director of the Commercial Drone Alliance, Will Changes to Section 336 Impact the Future of the Commercial Drone Industry?

I very much like her recommendation which speaks directly to the challenges of enterprise adoption:

If you think that drones are going to be helpful at all for your business at any time in the future, it’s going to make sense to start exploring those possibilities today. It takes awhile to set up a process, train employees, devise your CONOPS, etc… It’s not something that just happens overnight.


It is astonishing how passionate people are about 336. And how misinformed. Dronin’ On contributor Frank Mellott, a retired USN Commander, was literally flamed on an RC forum he contributes to. Check out Are Some Posters Here Being Paid by the Drone Industry to Capture our Airspace? It’s flat out ugly.

  • The Drone Alliance wants our airspace, and this fellow is helping them do it and he posts here alot.This is Frank’s first guest post for the”
  • You’re talking to legislators.. That’s called Lobbying.. You have also written an article apparently.. called lobbying..And basically providing examples of lies to legislators for the benefit of your precious drone alliance.. that’s
    called disgusting.
  • He says in his article the AMA will not enforce the registration..Why the heck should they? This is regulation passed down by the FAA.. at the time in direct violation of 336..So that;s why a lot of us said weren’t going to register… Why should we automatically comply despite what the law says?

I was taken to task on LinkedIn for posting the Betsy Lillian article I mentioned earlier. The comment was:

  • Go ahead, kill STEM education; video games and social media are all kids need to get ahead today. Changes to 336 and effects on STEM were discussed at length [at SUSB Expo] and many professionals there echoed my sentiment.

To which I replied:

  • Bottom line is that many of the “professionals” seem to keep missing the fact that 336 is really bad for their business. As I see it, what they are doing is supporting the AMA, which was a dying deal till drones came along,
    not STEM.

If your business plan is predicated on extended operations, you need Remote ID.Yet people continue to underestimate the lobbying power of the AMA, and their ability to stir up the grassroots.


One of the great kerfuffles of 2017 was the revelation that DJI user data seemed to be showing up in unexpected places.

I would never use the words “charm offensive” and DJI in the same breath, but it is appropriate to say that the company has listened and responded to these concerns. One way is the release of a report by Kivu Consulting that is intended to validate their data security protocols.

The good thing about being the 800-pound gorilla is that virtually every single trade publication has covered it. Commercial Drone Professional wrote it up as DJI Users’ Data Is Safe Under Lock and Key, Independent Study Concludes. suAS News ran with Independent Study Validates DJI Data Security Practices. That article offers a link to the summary that Kivu sent to DJI.

The money quotes which you will find in every article [emphasis mine]:

“Kivu’s analysis of the drones and the flight control system (drone, hardware controller, GO 4 mobile app) concluded that users have control over the types of data DJI drones collect, store, and transmit,” explained Douglas Brush, Kivu’s director of Cyber Security Investigations.

“For some types of data, such as media files and flight logs, the drone user must affirmatively initiate transmission to any remote server,” Brush added. “For other types, such as initial location checks or diagnostic data, the user may prevent transmission by deactivating settings in the GO 4 application and/or disabling the internet connection.”

Adam Lisberg, DJI’s Corporate Communication Director for North America is a Dronin’ On reader – so he knew that he would pique my interest when he
wrote me:

You’ve probably seen stories about the Kivu Consulting report we commissioned to validate our data security protocols. And I suspect you’re curious what’s really inside it. If you’d like, I can send you a copy of the full report…

I am not a security expert, but Kivu seems to have done a very thorough job. There are even more user settings then mentioned above –  all of which seems to support the promise that operators are able to control what is and isn’t shared.

To me, the question of how the current state of affairs compares to last summer is moot. DJI changed things in response to the market. That’s what successful companies do.

But looking forward it still leaves open some big questions. The larger issue, especially for US government agencies, was the End User License Agreement (EULA) which gave the rights to a lot of the data to DJI. I will be meeting with Adam in Denver and ask him if that has changed.

There is also the conviction held by many that “all” Chinese manufacturers have connections with Chinese government security agencies. I reported on this under Cybersecurity in the 2018 CES issue.

At the time Michael Perry, the Managing Director of DJI in North America, responded saying “We can only manage things that we can manage. DJI itself is not going to improve the relationship between China and the US, but what we can do is to continue communicating the reality of the situation in terms of what we do and what we don’t.” 

What Kivu did not address, and it is an issue that came up in Zuckerberg’s recent testimony, is what the null or default settings are. In that sense, the situation is not unlike that facing the Facebook user or the cellphone user: it is on the user to take the time to understand the options and make the correct settings.


A grab bag of articles that are worth a look.

WIRED has The Robot Assault on Fukushima. The cleanup will take decades, and it’s no job for humans. I cannot think of a better example of GE’s 4Ds – dirty, distant, dangerous and dull.

On the subject of how to regulate UAS delivery services, Congress Shouldn’t Forget Local Role in Setting Drone Policy is from John-Michael Seibler and Jason Snead at the Heritage Foundation and it should make someone happy… It certainly maps to UASIPP.

State and local authorities have the direct accountability, political flexibility, and understanding of local conditions that is required to effectively regulate and govern the rollout of drone services in low-altitude airspace.

Also from The Heritage Foundation is Establishing a Legal Framework for Counter-Drone Technologies. This is the best analysis I have read. It explores topics like Agencies with Existing Authorities (six by their count), Legal Barriers to CUAS Operations and also offers a host of specific recommendations.

The Problems with Counter UAS (CUAS): How to Move the Industry Forward is a sober look from Rob Thompson, co-founder of Falcon Foundation and the CUAS Coalition. It’s a good primer touching on Illegal Operations, Equipment, Jammers, Liability and the moment of truth piece of his assessment, What To Do:

For CUAS equipment to be legal with a blanket exemption or outright new laws created it would need to pass 4 separate committees in the House and 3 committees in the Senate. It is very remarkable for just one committee to vote in favor of changing a law and we are asking for more than 23 laws to be changed. 

Patrick Egan offers up The 2018 SUSB Expo Journal as a free companion piece to this week’s event.

The materials provided by Expo participants serve as a primer for their presentations as well as help illustrate some of the larger issues and challenges that we as an industry need to face in the next six to eighteen months.

From The Cipher Brief, Artificial Intelligence: Welcome to the Age of Disruptive Surprise by Bruce Pease, a career intelligence analyst, author and teacher.

I believe this is the most important leap in technology since man discovered how to harness fire, and we are still struggling with fire’s demon side. Nearly every aspect of our lives is being touched by digital technologies, and everything digital will be affected by artificial intelligence.

I also very much liked the MIT Technology Review’s piece, What If Apple
Is Wrong

Are we certain we want to eliminate an important source of evidence that helps not only cops and prosecutors but also judges, juries, and defense attorneys arrive at the truth? That essential question got lost in this winter’s remarkable confrontation between the FBI and Apple…

Play this against Travis Moran’s recent guest post, Will The Drone Please Take
The Stand


Jonathan Evans, Founder and Co-President of Skyward and our industry poet has announced that he is leaving the C suite and will become the Head of Innovation and continue his work with GUTMA. Mariah Scott will be President.

Former FAA Administrator Michael Huerta is enjoying his retirement though he doesn’t seem to be getting in a lot of skiing in. He has joined the Delta Airlines Board of Directors.

Sandy Murdock penned this cautionary tale, President’s Team Knew FAA Administrator Job Would Become Vacant adding Irritated about absence? Current team doing well Delay may be OK. I suspect he could have added, better the devil who knows their business …


Coming up May 17, another webinar from LeClair Ryan, Drones and Natural Disasters: What can you do after a disaster and how do you get permission to
do it

ICUAS’18 Registration is now open, including the Legal and Policy Track Program which just might take me to Dallas.

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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