O’Hare – photo Jim Larrison – CC BY-SA 2.0 – click to view

Hi all –

A thunderous week as the skies opened on Boeing and the FAA, confirming people’s worst fears about manufacturer self-certification. Testifying on the Hill this week, DOT IG Calvin L. Scovel III noted that:

Clearly, confidence in the FAA as the gold standard for aviation safety has been shaken.”

To balance things out, uplifting stories about Women And Drones, Carpe Diem and Tech Wins.


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

Les Affaires MAX won’t be going away any time soon.

For an amuse-bouche (a complimentary appetizer,) I like Air Tranport World’s China Agrees to Buy 300 Airbus Aircraft – which dashes Boeing’s hope for the prize. I suspect that it is as much a comment about how easy trade wars are to win, as it is about safety, though China was the first to ground their fleet.

But let’s get on to the real stuff.

Avionics has a good summary, FAA Stands By Delegating 737 MAX Certification in Senate Hearing. Subcommittee Chair Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) wasted no time cutting to the chase:

“Trust is the currency of the realm. Trust of the flying public in the safety of the aircraft they step onto; trust of our international partners in the diligence and thoroughness of our regulatory bodies and, increasingly, trust of our regulatory bodies in the truthfulness of the data and certifications provided and performed
by industry.”

The Seattle Times looks at Incredibly Bad Form’ Boeing Taking a Beating Over Public Messaging on 737 MAX Crisis, an issue that came up in the initial coverage and should serve as a cautionary tale.

Boeing “has been a step behind the news cycle on the crisis from the beginning,” said Lawrence Parnell, a former public-relations executive who now runs the Strategic Public Relations graduate program at George Washington University. “They are reacting to developments as they occur, and not necessarily having any kind of a leadership role in the unfolding of the crisis.”


FAA 2019 budget
click to view

This headline totally surprised me, FAA Turned Over More Safety Work to Boeing Under Pressure to Regulate Drones. Yes – read it twice. Author Clive Irving is a seasoned aviation and travel writer whose credits include several books on the Boeing 747.

The agency’s budget request for that year said its Aviation Safety Office, in charge of certifying aircraft, would need “additional safety staffing to meet growing demands for UAS [unmanned aircraft system] operations, while continuing to expand delegation responsibilities to designees,” like Boeing.

The FAA’s budget request for the 2019 fiscal year indicated a perfect storm of converging leaps in aviation technology: It said it had to accommodate “a spike in unmanned aircraft system (UAS) work, as well as an increase in the level of complexity that some of these projects will bring.” 

I didn’t want to get caught flat-footed, so I went and found FAA Budget Estimates Fiscal 2019. Turns out that Clive cut them some slack. If you go through the budget in addition to outsourcing certification, you will see that the FAA has leaned on UAS in multiple instances to justify additional budget.

The most astonishing statement is:

The number of UAS aviation products requiring certification and approvals services is anticipated to expand within the system and products as well as operational complexity is anticipated to increase as new technologies are introduced. These factors are driving the need in the short-term to reprioritize some of AVS existing resources for certification services and UAS integration into the NAS.

AVS is responsible for setting the safety standards for every product, person, and organizations that manufacture and operate aircraft in the NAS. Through its approximately 7,000 employees, AVS provides the following services…

What exactly is the FAA so busy certifying that it is impacting 7,000 folks? Because I certainly haven’t heard, read or written about it.

More funding continues to be a theme for 2020. In setting the stage for Secretary Chao’s testimony this week, Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Susan Collins (R-ME) noted that:

In addition, the request includes funding to ensure the safe integration of drones into the national airspace, as well as to meet regulatory mandates. The budget proposes to establish a new office of innovation to deal effectively with the surge of new aviation technologies, while allowing for continued innovation and safety.

To the extent that the FAA culture is about “lessons written in blood,” in this current anti-regulatory environment is this going to be enough to cause some thoughtful reflection on the entire certification process? Promises are already being made, but the repercussions go beyond MAX.

Here’s a different spin on it. Travis Moran and I were talking, and Travis said, isn’t it ironic that while we have all spent countless hours speculating about what might happen if a drone brought down a couple of jets and killed hundreds of people; in fact the planes brought down the planes and killed hundreds of people – and changed the entire discussion.

Never far behind us, WaPo ran an op-ed, The Boeing Crashes Are a Cautionary Tale About Automation. Add that to the Tesla stories, the Uber crash and quite a case is building for those inclined to question the price of progress. I guarantee you there will be many more articles to come. And there are legitimate reasons way beyond Chicken Little and the sky is falling.

…Perfecting such a process is more difficult than it sounds. Government already suffers from a dearth of qualified computer scientists, and the more advanced technology becomes, the more difficult it is to evaluate.

The 737 crisis has implications for more industries than just aviation, from self-driving cars to medical care. Software has bugs. Extensive testing can preempt some problems, but it is almost impossible to root out all eventualities.

Want another example of the challenges of certification? I found this on Facebook:

A disturbing video surfaced in one of the official DJI groups earlier today. It’s showing a failure of a ParaZero chute system on the Phantoms, (https://youtu.be/SAu1FY5nqLo).

I’m wondering how this will affect the ASMT, and those who bought the system here in the U.S. Will the Federal Aviation Administration rescind the paperwork of anyone who is using this in their application?

This was supposed to make it safe and almost guaranteed to get a 107.39 (over people) with their ASTM report. However, a single motor failure and corresponding flat spin is the most common failure. And the SafeAir system didn’t deploy until AFTER that Phantom hit the ground and tipped over.

It has incredible ramifications for this industry, both very positive, and
very negative.

Here’s the thing. We are not talking about any kind of real transformation, what we continue to see is that almost seven years later the regulators simply cannot keep up. What is becoming impossible to ignore is that there is no viable strategy that will change this.

Another thing that does not bode well is a story in ProPublica on a subject that got a lot of attention on the Hill this week, “Happy to Do It”: Emails Show Current FAA Chief Coordinated With Ex-Lobbyist Colleagues on Policy.

This is not to slam Acting Administrator Elwell. Many would argue that Mr. Elwell was simply doing his job – though some will say that he might have curbed his enthusiasm a bit.

It certainly adds some teeth to the oft-repeated criticism by Patrick Egan and others, that the current state of sUAS regulation reflects a certain ‘coziness’ between the FAA and select firms and lobbyists. Is it reasonable to seek out industry experts and stakeholders? Absolutely – that’s one way to interpret ‘by and for the people.’

Looking at the history of the ARCS, what is in question is the degree of reliance placed on obviously self-serving points of view.

And as a different group of readers, led by Mark Dombroff, have often pointed out, there is a much larger problem which ProPublica also nails:

Unlike most other oversight agencies, the FAA has a dual mission to both regulate and promote the airline industry, a combination that many observers have criticized as an inherent conflict.

Wing “Hummingbird” drone – courtesy Wing – click to view

The NYT offers an interesting take on that conflict in Skies Aren’t Clogged With Drones Yet, but Don’t Rule Them Out. It’s a well written profile on Wing CEO James Burgess and the state of things delivery. But there is an unexpected insight into the much ballyhooed, not invented here UAS IPP program:

While the FAA has chosen the 10 pilots, the programs still need to apply for agency waivers because they will fly beyond the visual line of sight, fly at night and fly over people, fundamentals not allowed under current law. The agency is seeking comments on expanding permissible uses under current law; it is also testing to evaluate the parameters of regulation.

As a practical matter, this means that some of the pilot programs are not yet operational as they await FAA approval.

Next there is, Feds Late to Act on Drone Threat, DHS Official Says. This is some kind of variant on the pot and the kettle between the DHS and FAA, but the FAA was there first:

“This is not an emerging threat. It was emerging five years ago,” assistant director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Brian Harrell told attendees of the NERC Reliability Leadership Summit on Thursday. “We’re clearly cognizant of the fact that you do not own the airspace above your generating facilities, the airspace above … your transmission substations. And right now, the laws are such that the federal government isn’t being as helpful as it should be.”

This is about to go from being a very hot issue discussed behind closed doors, to a very hot public issue now that the FAA has accelerated the SEC. 2209 rulemaking process. The question is simple, the answer difficult. Once the FAA figures out how to manage the 2209 application process, (see Travis Moran’s recent guest post, Deconstructing Mr. Elwell) then what?

If there is no way to mitigate or interdict, then the FAA and DHS will be conceding that the 2209 designation is meaningless and that critical infrastructure is, in fact, a sitting duck.

Given the security implications and the massive lobbying power, I think it’s a safe bet that Congress won’t wait for the next Reauthorization to get involved. Which is probably a good thing because interdiction is going to require an entirely new regulatory approach.

While it ultimately will be determined by courts, common sense says that simply establishing if a drone is cooperative or non-cooperative (i.e. squawks Remote ID) is not going to be enough. As Travis explains, it is also a question of establishing intent. See The Counter Drone Conundrum for more on the complexities.

Bringing it all home to demonstrate that you can’t have enough umbrellas for a rainy day, the DOT IG is again training their sights on the FAA, Audit Initiated of Security Controls for FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft System Registry.

Because of the volume of sensitive data provided by the general public as well as the importance of UAS user data to FAA’s oversight, we are initiating an audit to determine whether FAA’s UAS registration system has the proper information security controls and recovery procedures in place.

This is timely because the registration process is going to need to be much more robust to support Remote ID, and to deliver the information that law enforcement will need if interdiction is to be allowed.

Meanwhile not a word about the status of nominee Steve Dickson’s
confirmation hearing.


Staying with the gourmand theme, it’s definitely time for a sorbet, “palate cleanser.”

I am delighted to announce that Sharon Rossmark and her team at Women And Drones have just opened the nominating process for the Third Annual Women To Watch In UAS. The honorees will be announced live at the 2019 InterDrone conference on Thursday, September 5th in Las Vegas during the annual Women In Drones Luncheon.

I judged last year’s entries and was impressed with the high level of challenging work being done. So I asked Sharon for an update on some of the recent honorees and she suggested two from the initial 2017 class.

We build drones that stop bullets. Yes, really.
screen grab from Astral Ar website – click to view

In 2015 Leah LaSalla co-founded Astral AR, a rather remarkable company as you can see. This year, Astral AR was recognized by Forbes as one of 50 Women Led Start-Ups Who Are Crushing Tech.

screen grab from GLOBHE website – click to view

Also in 2015, Helena Samsioe founded GLOBHE,  a global social impact drone service provider.  Forbes recently named Helena as one of the World’s Top 50 Women in Tech. Some 3,700 pilots in 48 countries are involved.

To date, Women And Drones has connected like-minded women in 15 countries. 40% describe their involvement as entrepreneurial, 30% are involved in education, 20% are in industry, 5% are in government and the remainder are the ever mysterious ‘other.’

click to nominate

I bring this up to encourage you to nominate any woman who is currently employed in the UAS industry and making a difference. The submission process closes Friday, May 3, 2019, which isn’t a whole long time from now since the nomination process requires a bit of work.


Create your future – Pixabay

Time is running out to comment on the NPRM and the ANPRM.

Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on the Operation of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) over People – closes Friday, April 15th. As of 3/28/19 there have been 7,697 page views and 58 (no typo – five eight) comments.

An advanced NPRM (ANPRM) on the Safe and Secure Operations of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems – closes April 15th. As of 3/28/19 there have been 4,682 page views and no (zero) comments.

I am completely flabbergasted that people are not seizing this opportunity to shape their own future. The two proposals cover an enormous range of issues that will directly impact the ability to create and provide services and to design and sell apps and products. To say nothing about influencing what people can and cannot do with drones in and around a community and place of business. The FAA wants and needs your input.

FPV Wild Flyers podcast
Wild Flyers podcast – click to view

I was reading DroneLife.com and came across a guest post that Miriam McNabb had posted by John Saginario who is an FPV flyer, writer and host of the Wild Flyers podcast. The article is entitled Hobbyist View: Court of Public Opinion – The Ongoing Fight to Preserve Our Community.

I don’t know John but his heart and his head is in the right place.

…The times, they are a changin’ – and I don’t think anybody who flies a drone today can argue there is an obvious need for some sort of clear governance. Of course, the devil’s in the details and the desired level of that involvement changes depending on whom you ask. 

One thing’s clear: if hobbyists and commercial interests — all drone pilots, no matter the craft or vocation — do not come together to help shape the coming legislation and affect positively the perception of drones in the public eye, we
all lose.

It won’t happen if we sit on the sidelines, staring into our screens and goggles, assuming somebody else will take care of it. They won’t. We must. So what are we going to do first?

If you are on the commercial side of the house, the answer is pretty clear. Participate in the ANPRM and NPRM process.

Think of it like this. It will take an hour or two out of your day to identify what matters to you, write it down and post it. If you don’t, you will have years to bellyache and try to change it.


Sabrewing Draco UAS heavy lift cargo
Sabrewing Draco – courtesy Sabrewing Aircraft – click to view

It never ceases to amaze me how much is going on in the commercial space.

Less than a year after completing the TechStar program, CEO David Kovar announced that:

URSA Inc. has been awarded a $1.875M SBIR Phase II contract by AFWERX to integrate URSA’s commercially viable UAV forensics capabilities into the USAF’s counter UAS program to extend the CUAS kill chain to include investigation and intelligence analysis.

Well done.

Also growing, Cyberhawk. sUAS News reports that: 

Cyberhawk Innovations Limited, a leading provider of UAV inspection services and asset visualisation software, has been acquired by funds advised by Magnesium Capital LLP, a London-based private equity firm.  

This is a big step since it buys out the original investors.

UASVisions.com reports $43M Deal to Trial Heavylift UAS Freighters in Alaska.

Sabrewing Aircraft Company, Inc. and the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island (ACSPI), the Unangan (Aleut) Tribe of Native Alaskans, located on St. Paul and St. George, Pribilof Islands, jointly announced that they have signed a history-making agreement for Sabrewing to provide a mix of up to ten aircraft – featuring both the 800-pound-payload “Rhaegal” and the 4400-pound-payload “Wyvern” aircraft.

Both aircraft will be tested in a new test range that was created by ACSPI following the ratification of the FAA Reauthorization Bill by Congress last fall.

Heavy lift is the end of the delivery business that actually makes sense.

Unmanned Systems Technology reports Drone ID and Tracking Technology Selected for UTM Trials:

RelmaTech, a developer of spatial tracking solutions, has announced that it has become a member of both the State of Nevada team selected by NASA to conduct the UTM TCL 4 program, and the State of Nevada team selected by the FAA to conduct the UTM Pilot Program (UPP).

Nice wins. Interesting company from the UK.

Finally, NYT reports Google Launches Global Council to Advise on AI and Tech Ethics. Particularly newsworthy because Trumbull CEO Dyan Gibbens is one of the eight. Straight from the headlines here is one the Council can ponder, As IPO Soars, Can Uber and Lyft Survive Long Enough to Replace Their Drivers
With Machines?

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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