image courtesy Pixabay

Hi all –

Hope this finds you well. Some timely articles have crossed my screen that I wanted to share. Comments on the FAA’s implementation of the 2018 Reauthorization, thoughts and now updates (10/8/19) on the incredibly broad UPS Part 135, airport security and the BRTF, UTM, the always popular Bits & Pieces and Coming Attractions.

But before we get to that, I’ve put together a page with links to all six of the InterDronePolicy Day videos. If you missed it, Policy Day was a day long event that I curated last month. There are over five hours of content with 21 speakers from every part of the industry. Topics include Privacy, Ramp Checks, Remote ID, CUAS and Waivers. Good stuff and it’s free – take some home.


Chairman Rick Larsen brings the hearing to order – screen grab

Remember the 2018 FAA Reauthorization? The one that was so chock full of goodies that we couldn’t believe our luck?

Yes, that one.

Ever wonder what’s happened to all those 90 and 180 day deadlines?

Congress is definitely curious.

So everyone trooped up to the Hill last week for Work in Progress: Implementation of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, House Aviation Subcommittee Hearing.

There were two panels of witnesses. Panel One was The Hon. Joel Szabat, Acting Undersecretary for Policy, DOT and Deputy Administrator Dan Elwell. And on Panel Two, telling it like it is, the Aviation Counsel for the Small UAV Coalition (SUAVC) Greg Walden. (Spoiler alert – his comments are what sparked this issue.)

Here are the essential links:

The Hearing

Mr. Elwell’s written testimony

Mr. Szabat’s written testimony

Mr. Walden’s written testimony

If you are Messrs. Elwell and Szabat you have a particular problem; there are 550 sections in the Act. Mr. Szabat explained it like this:

Despite the government shutdown last winter and our ongoing response to the fatal accidents and grounding of the 737 MAX, we have made great progress on the safety, civil rights, and consumer protection provisions of the Act. We identified more than 360 deliverables for the Department, and, while we have not been able to address all of the deliverables simultaneously or meet all the requirements in this first year, the Department has demonstrated unwavering commitment to the provisions of the Act. 

On pages 7-8 you will find his comments about UAS. Note the emphasis that he and Mr. Elwell both place on the UAS IPP – which Elwell also spoke about during his recent InterDrone keynote.

The back story is that UAS IPP came out of The White House with NIH (not invented here) stamped all over it by the FAA. Safe to say DOT/FAA needs the win. Keep this in mind when we get to UPS and their Part 135.

Of course Mr. Szabat mentioned Remote ID:

We are working with our intergovernmental partners and the Office of Management and Budget to publish a proposed rule that will establish remote identification requirements for UAS.

Mr. Elwell on pages 6-9 also did the by now obligatory RID happy dance:

Remote identification is fundamental to both safety and security of UAS operations.

Still it all boils down to this:

A draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on this subject is presently in Executive Branch clearance.

Greg Walden testifies – screen grab

It remained for Greg Walden to peel the onion, which he did in a meticulously prepared, eminently readable 14 page document. BTW If you are not familiar with the Small UAV Coalition, they are one of three groups actively involved in UAS lobbying – the other two are AUVSI and the Commercial Drone Alliance.

I encourage you to download his testimony and read it. It sheds considerable light on Mr. Szabat’s comment that “…We have not been able to address all of the deliverables simultaneously or meet all the requirements.”

Not surprisingly, Greg chose to begin with Remote ID on pages 2-4. I hope that this sentence doesn’t come as a surprise:

We are mindful that the OIRA process may result in further delays, beyond the 90 day review period set out in Executive Order 12866.

Greg devotes considerable space to the ASTM standard (still on the ballot) and the voluntary compliance recommendations that the DAC may or may not have already delivered to the FAA, since the next DAC meeting is October 17th. Yes, there is a definite lack of transparency.

Greg did not touch on why RID might be delayed in OIRA, but I will hazard a guess. It is my opinion that the security and law enforcement agencies will say something to the effect of “Great, it works on a cellphone. Now where is the rest of it?”

This because the issue is much more complex than the binary ‘if it squawks it’s a friend, if it doesn’t it’s a foe’ vision pitched on the Hill last summer.

If the end goal is a world in which millions of drones go about their business every day, you in fact have a DMV and traffic cop problem on the ground that is anything but binary.

My license plate analogy is that an officer will require access to the same information for a drone stop as he does for a traffic stop. You do know that the officer has already run your plates before they ever walk up to your car right? 

The yet to be addressed challenge is determining who the operator flying the aircraft is, as opposed to the registered owner.

To be clear, this has nothing to do with the ASTM standard which was designed to be flexible enough to meet the needs of all 193 ICAO member nations. It has everything to do with the policies that the FAA develops. If there is a hold up, I suspect it’s going to be around filling in a myriad of details.

Wiley Connect’s report, House Hearing on FAA Reauthorization Focuses on UAS Implementation Delays, supports that noting Mr. Elwells comment that:

[Elwell] also acknowledged that interagency technical issues were holding back the implementation of Remote ID.  Rep. DeFazio (OR-04) questioned how OIRA could carrying out a cost-benefit analysis of Remote ID when the technology hasn’t yet been tested, and Rep. Lipinski (IL-03) pointed out that Remote ID was necessary not only for safety, but for the creation of jobs in the industry.  Deputy Administrator Elwell insisted, however, that the rule is moving.  He noted that the removal of the Section 336 hobbyist exemption in 2018 forced the agency to go back to the drawing board on putting the rule together, but did not elaborate on how Congress’s action in correcting the loophole and giving the FAA the requisite authority changed the FAA’s approach.   

Here are a few of the other topics that Greg addressed.

State and Local Authority

One of the greatest challenges to the development of a mature UAS regulatory framework is to achieve a proper understanding of the roles and responsibilities of Federal, State, and local governments. Section 373, which the Coalition supported, tasks GAO with conducting a study and reporting to Congress by April 2019. 

As you may remember, a major “reason” behind UAS IPP was to give state, local and tribal governments the chance to provide input into the issue. But…

Generally speaking the IPP has lacked transparency; the initial report on this three year program has not yet been published. Reports indicate that success has been uneven. From the start, the scope of projects in most IPP programs was significantly curtailed and waivers have taken longer than expected.

As for the future of the program, go to 3:23:45 on the video where the chair, Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA) asks the question. Greg’s answer is fund the program to provide some support, expand the program to include some other teams (and get rid of the non-starters) and extend the program long enough to get useful data.

For some insider insight, take a look at Avionics report on the IPP Panel at XPONENTIAL which looks at some of the outstanding issues and challenges.

Aircraft Safety Standards and Certification

As for aircraft certification, there remains much to do. The Coalition supports section 44807, which superseded section 333 exemption authority, so that the FAA is permitted to authorize UAS operations over 55 pounds, as well as waive type, production, and airworthiness certification requirements.

Indeed, commercial package delivery under Part 135 requires an exemption under section 44807, because otherwise an air carrier may operate only those aircraft with a valid airworthiness certificate.

I have no insight into why this long standing rule has been set aside. Here’s why it seems extremely premature.

Section 345 directs the FAA to set up a process to accept risk-based industry-consensus standards and to allow UAS manufacturers to declare compliance with such standards. There is much promise in this provision, but it will take some time to work through its complexity…

It will be up to the UAS industry, working with various US and international standards-setting groups, to develop standards for such technologies as detect-and-avoid [DAA].

Further down:

Section 345 recognizes that the initial and primary responsibility for designing and manufacturing safe and reliable drones rests with the UAS industry. 

So does anyone want to talk about Les Affaires MAX?


This section makes a clever new argument that I have not come across before.

The Coalition recommends a holistic approach to evaluating risk that takes into account avoided risk (such as the risks associated with alternatives such as manned aircraft, or road vehicles) and risk mitigation (measures that reduce the likelihood of failure and the likelihood of a collision, not just the consequences of
a collision

Greg concludes that:

UAS operations under 55 pounds are lightweight, nearly all battery-powered, have no on-board crew, and create no toxic emissions.

This is a pretty hard one to swallow since the FAA is now allowing operators to fly delivery aircraft over 55 pounds – many of which will be hybrid or gas powered. I understand the arguments of the so-called micro UAS (under four-pound) advocates, I have reviewed the ASSURE test results for small quads and I am well aware of the new ASTM parachute standard for small quads.

There is no question in my mind that conducting the same tests with a 55 pound aircraft will demonstrate an entirely different level of risk.

By going from 4 to to 22 (UPS) or 55 pounds plus, Greg’s elegant argument for reduced risk goes straight out the metaphorical window.

I am concerned about how far the FAA has sent the cart ahead of the horse – there have been no standards set and no demonstrations of reliability and durability. In fact there have not even been any public discussions about what those standards should be. And yet for some reason the apparently limited resources of the agency are focused on an area that will benefit a very small number of companies.


image courtesy UPS Flight Forward

UPS has received the first Part 135 Standard certification from the FAA to operate a drone airline. Turns out there are four levels to Part 135 certification, ‘Standard’ being the highest and the one that no other UAS company has yet been granted.

UPS has no limits on the size or scope of operations.

UPS Flight Forward’s certificate permits the company to fly an unlimited number of drones with an unlimited number of remote operators in command.

Part 135 Standard also permits the drone and cargo to exceed 55 pounds and fly at night. Apparently it does not permit BVLOS or operations over people though much of the reporting seems to indicate that it does (including the UPS
press release.)

WakeMed campus map – courtesy WakeMed

The current effort is focused on delivering medical supplies on the WakeMed hospital campus in Raleigh, NC is part of the NCDOT UAS IPP initiative. UPS charges for these services.

At the moment UPS is flying the Matternet M2 Quad, which according to the website, can “carry payloads of up to 2 kilograms and 4 liters over distances of up to 20 kilometers.” Flight management is done using the Matternet Cloud Platform.

Matternet UAS – courtesy of Swiss Post

The UPS Matternet unit appears to be identical to the one that crashed twice in trials with the Swiss Post, leading to the grounding of that program in May 2019. UPS has expressed a willingness to work with other partners. Why the FAA approved this is another matter.

Here is the UPS press release.

Here is the FAA press release. It notes that the FAA is currently working with seven other applicants so it is pretty clear where their priorities are.

Here is another FAA press release with DOT Secretary Chao.

Here is a Bloomberg video interview with UPS CEO David Abney who ascribes much of their success in securing the Part 135 to their long term expertise in aviation.

UPS Flight Forward is benefitting from our knowledge as one of the world’s leading airlines. The Flight Forward organization is building a full-scale drone operation based on the rigorous reliability, safety, and control requirements of the FAA,”

UPDATE 10/8/19 After several readers wrote in to say WTF, is it BVLOS or not?, I finally did what I should have done in the first place and found the FAA waiver which reads as follows:

Waiver Specific Special Provisions. sUAS operations beyond the visual line of ‘sight (BVLOS) of the remote PIC and VO(s) and over human beings may be conducted under this waiver when the operation complies with the following provisions:


8. Operations under this Waiver must utilize one or more VO(s);

9. The remote PIC must ensure sufficient VO(s) are used to observe the airspace to detect and track all air traffic or hazards;

10. Individuals directly participating in the operation of the sUAS must be easily identifiable visually (e. g. apparel, safety vests);

11. The Responsible Person must ensure all operations conducted under this Waiver follow the procedures in the UPS Flight Forward (UPS FF) General Operations Manual (GOM)

This leads me to conclude (perhaps incorrectly) that their operations to date have been limited to the campus where they could effectively station visual observers.

In addition I revisited an article that I didn’t share previously in Avionics by Brian Garrett-Glaser:

The certification permits UPS to fly drones and cargo exceeding 55 pounds and to fly at night, removing previous restrictions, however approvals to fly over people and beyond the operator’s visual line of sight (BVLOS) are yet to be achieved.

UPS plans to fly “regular and frequent drone flights” BVLOS, using a rapid build-out of ground-based detect-and-avoid (DAA) technologies combined with air traffic management systems to ensure safe operations, with a centralized operations control center. UPS declined to share further information on partner companies, specific technologies or the use of ground-based versus onboard DAA systems.

After reviewing everything mentioned above, with the exception of Garret-Glaser, I found an awful lot of references to “can” and “will,” all seemingly based on the UPS press release. That together with the text of the actual waiver leads me to conclude that yes they can, just not yet. Part of this is semantics – flying with additional VOs is currently referred to as EVLOS not BVLOS – perhaps our fledgling industry needs to revisit some of these terms?


map courtesy Airlines for America – click to view

While most conversations about the NAS begin and end with safety, the real discussion should be economic. What is the value of a safe, dependable commercial air system? As you can see from one map, almost a trillion dollars in the US alone.

So it is understandable that when drones shutdown flight paths and runways there is concern around the world and especially in Washington D.C. Yet for all the handwringing very little is being done to address the situation.

In a letter the FAA described a ten month study they conducted at four metropolitan airports in 2018:

“The low technical readiness of the systems, combined with a multitude of other factors such as geography, interference… demonstrate this technology is not ready for use in domestic civilian airport environments…

“… An additional and critical component of this finding is that technology rapidly becomes obsolete upon installation as UAS technology is rapidly changing… Further the FAA does not endorse or advocate for the use of countermeasures in the airport environment given the likely impact on safety… successful mitigation is reliant on successful detection.”

BRTF report cover – click to view

As you can imagine this answer did not do much for the owners and operators of America’s airports. So in early 2019:

The Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) on UAS Mitigation at Airports was commissioned by AUVSI and ACl—NA (Airports Council International North America) to address the timely and critical issue of incursions by unauthorized unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) at our nation’s airports and how best to mitigate this threat.

The BRTF has now published their report. On page 10:

The position of the FAA and other U.S. 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 BRTF takes the position that airports should not be burdened with undertaking this operation alone… Many airports simply have no ability to engage in the monitoring of UAS activity—the process for deploying UAS DTI technology is… beyond the scope of many airports’ resources and capacity.

The none too startling conclusion (please remember that very serious adults spent six months figuring this out):

Without a robust federal role, an unacceptable security gap will continue to exist at many airports across the US. and Canada.

The BRTF has no official standing and no authority. Given the 2018 letter, you have to wonder what the sponsors were thinking. But what you really have to wonder is what the FAA is thinking – here is a trillion dollar economic engine and no one can afford to safeguard it?

As is often the case, Commercial Drone Alliance is right on target with a recent post, Supporting Research and Development to Inform Drone Security Efforts.

To date, federally-funded research and development (R&D) efforts around drone security, including Remote ID and counter-drone technology, have been limited. These R&D efforts are critical to moving the policy and regulatory frameworks forward. Testing of proposed solutions is important to ensure a secure NAS. 

We can all agree that when something ‘bad’ finally happens, there will be a knee jerk reaction and a rush to action. By then it is going to be too late to do the research and build the supply chains necessary to protect even a small portion of our assets.

Then what happens to the NAS?

Is this also an indicator of how SEC 2209 will go? No federal resources, no local authority equals why bother.


cover of the Catapult report – click to view

Lost in the regulatory miasma are the tremendous advances being made on the technology side of the industry – in this case in the UK.

sUAS News headlined New Report Points Way to Shared Airspace Between Drones and Traditional Aircraft

A new report from the Connected Places Catapult (CPC) lays the groundwork for an Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management (UTM) to allow commercial drone usage in the UK alongside traditional manned aircraft.

The logic behind it is pretty straightforward:

Over the next decade, advances in automation… will accelerate the
scale and complexity of drone operations. Placing increasing demands on airspace access using traditional approaches to airspace management will become increasingly tasking, high-risk and costly.

Meaning that ATC won’t scale. Then comes the important idea:

Today, numerous UTM services are developing independently of any such framework — potentially resulting in short-term fixes or uncoordinated management of drones air traffic. As a response to this, the Connected Places Catapult (CPC), on behalf of the Department for Transport (DfT) designed a research programme… to develop a UTM framework, to communicate the requirements and inform an implementation strategy such that safe and efficient airspace coordination can be achieved.

Figure 1 – courtesy of Catapult

This is laid out in the Open Access UTM Principles graphic on page 4.

Definitely worth a listen is Episode 32: What Do you Really Know about UTM w/ Andrew Carter from ResilienX – one of an ongoing series of podcasts from Mike Pehel at InterDrone. Like Catapult, Andrew advocates for a more holistic, integrated approach to UTM.


chart courtesy of The Teal Group

I am not a big fan of most of the industry soothsayers, but this interview with Commercial UAV News Editor Jeremiah Karopwicz and Teal Group Director of Corporate Analysis Phil Finnegan is solid. No, Phil is not pushing the old $82B Teal forecast that powered the UAS industry to the top of the Hype Curve – that would have immediately excluded him from these pages. Instead he said:

To expect that the FAA will become comfortable with unmanned air taxi’s in the next decade or more is unrealistic and leads to that misallocation of investment dollars.

Yes! And there is plenty more.

Happy to introduce Advanced Aviation Update, a new newsletter from Akin Gump. Jennifer Richter and her team were out in force at InterDrone, the newsletter appears to be focused on UAS. Here is one comment about last week’s Work In Progress hearing that I have been wondering about on these pages:

A key area to follow over the coming months is how certification issues surrounding the recent incidents with the 737 MAX may shape the UAS and UAM programs, and certifications for new types of aircraft. Bingo.

The new I.C.E BPO – inage courtesy of Pixabay

If satire is your thing, Defense One offers the The Snake-And-Alligator Border Moat: A Budget Analysis. Author Peter Singer includes such considerations as:

The exact required density of snake and alligators per mile for border security has never been tested. Given their speed and coverage capabilities, it would seem necessary to have a minimum of 10 alligators and 1,000 snakes per mile. Lower amounts may not create the desired deterrent effect towards any individuals and/or families seeking refuge in America.

For the 1,954,000-member Snake Border Guard, the optimal force laydown should mix water moccasins (for maximum water effectiveness) and brightly colored coral snakes (for maximum visual deterrence). The present price per snake is approximately $350, generating a cost of $683,900,000.

It’s a very funny bit which led me to think that it actually might be cheaper to do it with drones.

To go out on a much needed high note, thanks to kk for this inspiring think piece in the New Yorker, Jonathan Ledgard Believes Imagination Could Save the World. It’s all about drones and their future as flying donkeys.

“Imagination at scale is our only recourse.” 



image courtesy Pixabay

Commerical UAV Expo Americas is upon us with their almost annual Halloween bash in Vegas October 28-30. I am delighted to offer Dronin’ On readers a $100 conference discount. Use SAVE100CB when you register here. See you there.

Thanks for reading and sharing. Back issues of Dronin’ On are here.


Christopher Korody
Editor and Publisher
follow me @dronewriter


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