Posts tagged "FAA"

There’s some good information in the FAA’s new five-year Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) forecast, but there are reasons to doubt the accuracy of the agency’s projections in two areas that have captured attention: the claims that there will be roughly threefold growth in the numbers of commercial drones and UAS-certified pilots. Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly in the report.

The Good

There is some good analysis in this report. For example, it seems the FAA finally gets that drones have a wide variety of price points and the bulk of commercial activity has been driven by low-cost consumer-grade aircraft:

“Currently, the consumer grade dominates the non-model sector with a market share approaching 95 percent. However, as the sector matures and the industry begins to consolidate, the share of consumer grade non-model aircraft is likely to decline but will still be dominant. By 2023, FAA projects this sub-sector will have around 85 per-cent share of the overall non-model sUAS sector.”

This insight is mostly consistent with independent surveys and reports like this one, which finds more than 91% said they bought drones costing over $2,000 for professional purposes—either governmental, academic, or business.

The other good thing in this report is the FAA’s admission that the historical commercial drone registrations outpaced their own predictions by 80%.  Previously, they predicted a healthy growth rate of more than 40%—but they underestimated it.

“Last year, we forecasted that the non-model sector would have around 229,400 sUAS in 2019, a growth rate exceeding 44 percent from the year before (2018). Actual data far exceeds that trend with over 277,000 aircraft already registered by the end of 2018. Our forecast of non-model sUAS last year thus fell short by almost 80 percent for 2018 (or 277,000 actual aircraft vs 158,900 that we projected last year).”

The Bad

A closer look at the report reveals a few oversights and curious assumptions for their forecasts. Some of the key metrics and growth trajectories came from a survey the FAA conducted in June-July of 2018 about commercial activities performed in 2017 under Part 107. The survey sent to 89,000 individuals was intended to get a snapshot of non-model/commercial mission characteristics, including locations, aircraft types used, and altitudes flown. But the response rate to the survey—which was complex and time-consuming—was low (approximately 8 percent).

Still, the report projects the U.S. commercial drone fleet (small non-model UAS) to nearly triple from 277,386 in 2018 to 835,211 in 2023, an average annual growth rate of almost 25 percent. However, the main oversight is that most people don’t deregister their aircraft.  They may if they register a new one, but if they stop using one they are not going into the Registry to delete it. This keeps the current number inflated.

Another noticeable problem is the survey results are inconsistent with internal FAA data. And to be fair, the FAA admits there are big variations between the survey results and their aircraft registry. For instance, almost a third of survey respondents use one small drone; their aircraft registry (i.e., the Registry) indicates 55 percent use one small drone. The survey indicates that, for those operating multiple small drones, 54 percent operate 2-9, but the registry claims just on third fly multiple drones.

Another issue is the survey found the largest commercial use for drones was in R&D and in training/education missions (21%). But year over year, other industry benchmark surveys find the number one use for commercial drones is aerial photography and video. This disconnect is no surprise given how the FAA worded their survey questions. In this instance, the question asked for the number of missions performed on average per aircraft in each of activity they listed, not about its major intended use. Given most businesses were new to drones in 2017, it makes sense that the FAA found a lot of aircraft flew training missions back then—not actual industrial missions such as mapping and inspections as happens today.

The Ugly

Perhaps the biggest problem with the FAA report is in the Remote Pilot Forecast section. It predicts the number of UAS-certified pilots is “set to experience tremendous growth following the growth trends of the non-model sUAS sector.”  It predicts commercial drone activities may require almost 350,000 remote pilots in five years—a three-fold increase. Many in the press have run with this assumption and taken it to mean that the commercial drone industry is set to triple in the next five years. But a closer look calls this into question and makes that forecast specious.

To start, the FAA does not maintain a database showing the number of remote pilot certificate (RPC) holders who are current.  They only report gross new RPC holders. As reported here, 126,299 individuals have been issued a remote pilot certificate as of March 15, 2019.  But as of the same day, only 7,306 individuals have taken the remote pilot certification recurrent knowledge test, which is required every two years. Given remote pilot certification started in August 2016, that means only 20% of the original pilots have renewed their license to operate commercially.  To be fair, that figure may be higher but not by much since Part 61 pilots with an existing RPC and have met their flight review requirements are considered RPC current.

If the number of certified remote pilots is the benchmark for commercial drone industry growth (because, almost uniformly around the world, regulations demand each drone operation have one pilot), it seems crucial the FAA keep and report a database on current RPC holders in the U.S. That information would enable all to predict with greater certainty the growth of the commercial drone industry.

This article first appeared on
Image: A drone operator demonstrates a DJI Matrice 100 drone at the Applied Drone Technology for Business Conference. Photographer: Paul Faith/Bloomberg © 2019 BLOOMBERG FINANCE LP

What is LAANC?

Aviation is full of acronyms, and there’s no better example than LAANC — or Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability. LAANC was developed over the last year in a collaboration with government and private industry to open the national airspace to drone operators, replacing a ~90-day manual process to receive authorization to fly in controlled airspace, down to seconds via an API. This is a critical step in evolving the airspace and automating processes, without sacrificing safety for manned or unammned flights.

What LAANC really means for commercial drone operators is a quick and unambiguous method to request flight authorizations in controlled airspace. The FAA has essentially replaced a blackbox method that took months to a precise method that happens immediately. For commercial pilots, the airspace will start to look a lot different.

Replacing swaths of no fly zones with readily accessible controlled airspace.

Since our founding, we’ve been a strong advocate for the advancement and openness of our industry, highlighted by our focus on making LAANC available in the open market. That day is just around the corner, as the FAA will begin rolling out LAANC to different regions beginning April 30th in the South Central region and culminating in the Central North region in September. Many of our customers estimate that they’ll be able to double the number of commercial flights they can do nationally once the LAANC rollout is complete. Based on the numbers below, we think those bullish views underestimate the actual potential.

LAANC will not be impactful purely through speed. Vast amounts of previously onerous airspace will become accessible across the National Airspace.

We’re excited at the opportunity that authorization wait times in seconds instead of months for authorizations will bring to the commercial drone industry once LAANC is rolled out across all major regions by the Fall of 2018. However, once we started analyzing the numbers, it became clear the largest impact isn’t speed. It’s area. And that’s even more exciting.

Amazon is among the companies that would benefit from package delivery by drones


Expanded drone testing will soon take off in handful of localities around the country. It’s part of the plan to integrate the unpiloted aircraft into U.S. airspace for things like package delivery, emergency operations and more. President Trump issued an executive memorandum in October, authorizing the real-world testing program as a way to speed up the process and create new jobs. But concerns about widespread use of drones in public –and private—space remain.

The expanded drone testing pilot program, set to roll out this spring, will for the first time, allow the air craft to carry out test flights over people, at night, and to operate out of sight of their human controllers. The flights will be allowed in 5 designated areas only, yet to be chosen. And while to some the reality of drones actually outside hovering outside the window seems to have come out of nowhere.  Mark Blanks with the Mid Atlantic Aviation Partnership at Virginia Tech says, “The drone industry would say that things have not been moving quick enough. This is going very slowly. It’s taken 10 years.  We thought it would take just 2 or 3 years.

Blanks oversees drone testing at Virginia Tech.  It’s one of just six sites in the country chosen to study how to safely integrate drones into U.S. airspace.  For the last five years, the testing has been done under carefully controlled conditions, away from population centers, but that’s about to change. “I like to tell people that drones will directly interface with them in ways that normal aviation never has, never will, so we’re getting to a point now where we have to address the social concerns of how they’re going to interact with you as an individual.”

Some say, exploration of those concerns should have begun years ago.

Philip Olson, a professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences says, “When the FAA chose Virginia Tech to be the 6th site for studying drones, they had a research project that didn’t didn’t mention ethics. There was no sociological component to it. It was devoid of humanistic and sociological inquiries. It was just considered a technical issue.”

That led Olson and a colleague to bring their concern to the college administration, which, he explained, ultimately decided to fund research into the ethics of Drones.

The study comprised people from several departments and colleges at Virginia Tech. They ran several focus groups which included experts who had experience with drones, as well as well as people who did not.

“We were in these groups, these 5 focus groups and we weren’t even asking questions about gender or race but all the focus groups and all the conversations were just full of assumptions about race and gender. It was constantly present but not addressed.”

Those issues came up so often says Olson, that researchers ultimately based part of the title of their paper that came out of the focus groups on a phrase they heard over and over again – “Man in the loop.” It was the default way to discuss what role a human might play in a drone’s flight. And it raised issues about who is in control of drones and who might feel controlled by them. What populations might benefit and which might suffer under them.

Olson says,“ So it was interesting that the people who are working on the drones aren’t away of the ways in which assumptions about race and gender are informing their understanding of this technology and how it will be deployed.”

And that was eye opening for focus group participant, Engineering professor Craig Woolsey, who works closely with drones.  So much so that he decided to teach a course on drone ethics with a colleague who specializes in the field. It was a whole new teaching experience for him. “You certainly don’t teach it in the conventional way that I teach aircraft  flight mechanics.  You pose a question and you sort of engage the students and encourage them to ask lots of different questions and you listen.”

The class on drone ethics debuted last spring and Woolsey says it filled up fast.

The paper that came out of the Focus Groups on Drone ethics, written by Philip Olson and Christine Labuski is called “There’s Always a [White] Man in the Loop”: The Gendered and Racialized Politics of Civilian Drones. It will be published in the journal Social Studies of Science.

The deadline for localities to submit their proposals to become new drone test sites was Jan 4, 2018 week.  The F.A.A. expects to make its selections and have the program underway sometime this spring.

Drone CommunicationDrone communication is important for the drone superhighway

Last week, I wrote about drone traffic management systems and legal hurdles to the drone superhighway. If you haven’t already read part one and two of this four-part series be sure to go back and start at the beginning. Also, check out Up Sonder to find out more about how my company is building a marketplace of drone pilots and drones to unlock the economic possibility of the drone superhighway.

This week, we’ll look at a beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) drone operation, the possibility of fully autonomous drones and how Trump administration policies could be used to advance the drone superhighway. It’s a lot to cover, so let’s dig in!

BVLOS and Flying Over People:

There is no way of getting around it, drone superhighways will require both BVLOS operation and flight over people. Unfortunately, right now according to FAA regulations without a special exemption, drones are required to stay within the line-of-sight of the operator or spotter and cannot fly directly over people. The FAA is not against BVLOS or drone flights over people, it just wants to make sure it’s done safely.

For BVLOS, the concern is that, unlike manned aircraft, drones don’t have enough self-awareness of their surroundings. Luckily technology, like advanced sensors and machine learning is quickly making this concern invalid. FAA approval of BVLOS drone operations really hinges on two points, implementation of a functioning drone traffic management system (already discussed) and the ability of drones to operate autonomously (I will address this more below).

Luckily some very smart folks at NASA, Harris Corp, and BNSF Railways are helping the FAA research how to make BVLOS a safe reality. Back in October of 2016, NASA was able to fly two drones BVLOS into a designated area and successfully keep the drones from running into each other using technology they are developing to assist in drone traffic management.

Credits: NASA Ames / Dominic Hart

​This February, Harris Corp and the University of North Dakota received a grant to develop an integrated network infrastructure for BVLOS drone operations. This includes everything from using cell phone towers to help find location, to machine learning that allows drones to detect obstacles and avoid them. Harris partnered with Ligado Networks in early May to use a commercial satellite with the largest antenna in North America for BVLOS navigation. The satellite’s 22-meter length (over 72 feet) gives it the ability to communicate with small devices like a drone over a large area. The exciting thing about Harris’ work is that after initial testing they plan on partnering with end users, like a utility company, to test BVLOS at their North Dakota test site.

BNSF Railway and Rockwell Collins have been testing BVLOS drone operations using a more down-to-earth approach. BNSF can communicate and control drones with a data link network that uses both radio spectrum and telecommunications infrastructure. The system automatically determines the best tower-to-drone link for control and can transfer control of the drone between towers during flight. This has given them the ability to test long-distance BVLOS operations for drones that are inspecting railway tracks.

The FAA’s concern with drones flying over people is public safety. What happens if a drone falls from the sky? What if a drone is being flown over groups of people with criminal intent? These are very real safety concerns the FAA cannot ignore.

The FAA has partnered with a number of universities to test the physical dangers of drones falling on people. Schools like Virginia Tech have been busy slamming drones into crash test dummies and a recently released report found a drone was not as dangerous as a block of wood or piece of steel when falling from a height of 50 feet. While the test is promising, the FAA will need more tests before it allows flights over people. A test on airborne drone collisions will reportedly be released this summer, so keep your eyes open for that.

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There is also a need to quickly identify drones when they act badly, particularly around large groups of people. Leading drone manufacturer DJI has stepped up to the plate and proposed an electronic identification system for all drones that would require drones to automatically broadcast identification information. If a standard can be created and applied to all drones, it will act as a digital license plate and will allow authorities to more easily track a problematic drone and find out who is operating it.

All of this testing is building a strong case that drones can operate safely BVLOS and over people. Hopefully, this will convince the FAA to revise current restrictions. One thing that could make this easier is the Trump Administration’s 2-for-1 executive order on regulations. A single revision to Part 107 to allow BVLOS and flight over people would eliminate four waiver regulations (107.31, 107.33, 107.39, 107.51).

Autonomous Drones:

OK, before we talk about autonomous drones any further, let’s get one thing straight…just because a drone is autonomous doesn’t mean it is going to go rogue and turn into a flying Terminator. For simplicity’s sake, we are talking about drones that can fly from point A to point B without any human interaction.

To fly autonomously, drones must be able to sense and avoid obstacles near them, communicate with other aircraft and air traffic control, be aware of changing environmental conditions like weather, have a fail-safe protocol in case of emergencies, etc. It’s a lot to do, but luckily the technology is mostly there. What must happen now is intensive testing to make sure autonomous drone flight is safe and scalable at size.

There is a lot of testing currently going on, here are three cool examples:

1-US company Matternet has partnered with the Swiss Post to successfully carry out 70 autonomous drone delivery tests in Switzerland. The Swiss Aviation Authority is supporting these tests and the plan is to make the drone deliveries between two hospitals in the city of Lugano a permanent situation by 2018.

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2-Engineers at NVIDIA have successfully tested autonomous drone flight through a path in a forest using deep learning and Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM). The deep learning lets the drone orient itself and follow the dirt path and the SLAM (same technology used on autonomous cars) allows the drone to map the area around it and avoid obstacles. While testing is still ongoing, the ability to connect machine learning with obstacle avoidance is an important step in autonomous drone flight.

3-The US Air Force takes the cake for most advanced testing with its Loyal Wingman Project. The idea is to create autonomous aircraft that are paired with a manned aircraft to act as the manned aircraft’s wingmen. These drone wingmen are supposed to do everything from carry out attacks on enemies to protect the manned aircraft. In the last few months the Air Force has reportedly “successfully demonstrated” the concept using F-16s as drones in tests at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

According to a press release from Lockheed Martin (who is involved in the project), the testing successfully showed the following:

  • the ability to autonomously plan and execute air-to-ground strike missions and
  • the ability to dynamically react to a changing threat environment during an air-to-ground strike mission while automatically managing contingencies for capability failures, route deviations, and loss of communication.

In Israel they have moved beyond testing. Airobotics has built a fully autonomous drone system that is designed to conduct survey and security missions for industrial applications. The Civil Authority of Israel has given Airobotics full approval to operate autonomous drones in Israeli airspace.

Airobotic’s Optimus drone system houses a drone in a box where it is protected and is able to recharge itself. When tasked with a mission, the drone will take off and autonomously conduct the mission before returning to its housing unit. What is even more amazing is that Airobotics is testing using this proven technology for emergency response in less predictable and more congested urban airspace.

Next week, in the fourth and final part of this series, I will discuss energy solutions to power the drone superhighway and look to the future about how everything mentioned here can be cost effective enough to be widely implemented.

Stay tuned!

Derek Waleko is CEO of Up Sonder, the first on-demand drone and service rental platform powered by UberRUSH, specifically designed for drone pilots and drone owners to earn extra money.

San Francisco, May 17, 2017 — Kittyhawk (, the leader in drone operations software, is today announcing Flight Deck: a new feature that brings in-flight controls and functionality in real time to the Kittyhawk platform. Every day, thousands of pilots rely on Kittyhawk for everything from pre-flight planning and checklists to post-flight logging and intelligence. Kittyhawk’s Flight Deck removes the need for switching between apps during an operation, while also connecting the pilot and his aircraft to real-time airspace alerts and real-time coordination with headquarters.

For commercial pilots, Flight Deck removes significant overhead by acting as a single mobile application that solves for every need in the field. It also automates the tedious task of flight logging. For chief pilots and fleet managers at headquarters, Flight Deck brings visibility and control to operations that are happening in real time.

“A core product theme at Kittyhawk is how we can help our customers foster a culture of safety,” says Josh Ziering, Co-Founder and Chief Pilot of Kittyhawk. “Flight Deck fundamentally changes how a commercial drone operations function.”

Thanks to improving technology and increasing clarity in FAA regulations, more and more companies are finding the confidence to expand drone use in their businesses.

The next question that Kittyhawk helps businesses answer is, how do we move from a handful of pilots to hundreds?

“As corporations start to roll out their drone operations, they are increasingly looking to consolidate hardware and software vendors,” says Colin Snow, CEO and Founder of Skylogic Research, LLC. “Platforms that can provide an entire workflow and integrate into existing operations become more and more valuable for large-scale UAV teams. Kittyhawk’s strong product offering puts it in a great place to leverage this market trend.”

With more companies adopting drones into their workflows, there is a high demand for safe, scaleable flight management and operations platforms. More flights means more data for drone operators — but the value of that data diminishes over time.

“Once a company starts operating at scale,” says Jon Hegranes, CEO and Co-Founder of Kittyhawk, “they realize the importance of real-time data. What happened last month or last week is fine for a report, but real-time telemetry and coordination with current flights is a necessity for any serious commercial operator.”

“Kittyhawk is a cost effective and indispensable tool for all our flight operations,” said Joshua Pruitt, Chief Pilot for Abroadened Horizon. “With Flight Deck we now have a hyper accurate and real-time air map with detailed forecasting in addition to tracking and documenting all of our flight records, managing our fleet maintenance schedules, and sharing checklists with other platform users”.

Kittyhawk is the only real-time flight operations and management solution on the market. The launch of Flight Deck brings the ability for pilots to interact dynamically with the airspace in real time. Flight Deck is integrated with the AirMap platform, allowing drone operators to improve their situational awareness with real-time traffic alerts, share their live telemetry with airports and others in the airspace, and understand and comply with airspace rules, requirements, and temporary restrictions.

“The innovators at Kittyhawk understand the critical importance of real-time situational awareness and effortless decision-making about where it is safe to fly,” said Ben Marcus, CEO of AirMap. “We’re proud that the AirMap platform can contribute to this sophisticated, end-to-end tool for commercial drone operators and enterprise users.”

Kittyhawk’s comprehensive platform links what’s happening in the air to mission plans, fleet data, and company-set alerts in real-time. These alerts ensure that information is always relevant and actionable. Furthermore, Kittyhawk’s cross-platform availability and cloud-scale data management backend make it both user-friendly and dependable. The team remains as product-driven as ever, rapidly building out technical features to match the fast-paced industry.

Kittyhawk has already been validated by high-profile customers like Shell, Intel, and CNN. And because security is of the utmost importance for large-scale operators, Kittyhawk prides itself on its data integrity and usability at scale. The platform stores all data domestically, which means sensitive media and telemetry data is not sent to any foreign companies or countries. Perhaps most importantly, Kittyhawk is customer-centric and rapidly develops its platform based on industry events and customer feedback.

The Kittyhawk platform currently serves customers ranging from individual drone pilots to the largest commercial teams in operation today. The newly released Flight Deck functionality is free and unlimited for anyone with a DJI drone, with more features and hardware partners coming soon.

About Kittyhawk

Kittyhawk was founded in 2015 with the belief that drone operations software should be as cool, reliable, and innovative as the aircraft we fly. Kittyhawk develops real-time flight operations and management solutions for professional pilots and fleet managers across a multitude of missions. Companies across the country in verticals like sports, media, shipping and logistics, insurance, education, law enforcement, and fire and emergency management all rely on Kittyhawk for their end-to-end flight operations. Discover more at

The drone superhighway will need proper laws and management


Last week, I wrote about how the groundwork is being laid as we speak for a drone superhighway. If you haven’t already read part one of this four-part series be sure to go back and start at the beginning. This week, we’ll look at a drone traffic management system and legal hurdles to a drone superhighway. So without further ado, let’s get down to business.

Drone Traffic Management System

What exactly is a drone traffic management system? Like the aircraft management system currently in place for the thousands of planes that fly through US airspace every day, it’s a way to track and safely manage drone flights.

But managing drones presents a number of hurdles. First, there will be many more drones in the sky than planes. Second, traditional tracking methods like radar and transponders don’t work well with small unmanned drones. Luckily, NASA is hard at work developing the groundwork for UAS Traffic Management (UTM). NASA currently has six active test sites throughout the US and has partnered with companies like AirMap, Skyward and AeroVironment to research and test solutions. NASA is on track to finish by 2019 and then hand their findings over to the FAA for implementation by 2025, right around the same time Elon Musk will be landing people on Mars.

As we mentioned in part one of the series, all this work will be part of the FAA’s Next Generation Air Transport Control System (NextGen) that will give planes, drones, helicopters and anything else in the sky the ability to communicate directly with each other and traffic control systems through data comms. The FAA is also developing special rules on how drones will operate at low altitudes through controlled airspace. Right now, the FAA is working on developing something called Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC). It’s a terrible acronym, but an awesome idea! Here is how a LAANC will help:

  • It will automate authorizations for drones to fly in controlled airspace, which currently takes up to 90 days!
  • It will allow drones the ability to directly notify air traffic control if they are within five miles of airports or other restricted airspaces they get permission to fly through.

This is amazing, but how will the average drone pilot interact with automatic authorizations? One answer is AirMap who has a powerful app that lets a drone pilot submit a digital notice to an airport. AirMap leads the industry in this area and is already working with over 125 airports across America. To see an example take a look at the video below.

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Sneak peek at a rendering of Up Sonder’s future app.

Up Sonder is committed to making these advancements available to our users, which is why we are in talks with AirMap to design and develop an app that will integrate the mapping and notification abilities of AirMap with the drone marketplace of Up Sonder. (Keep your eyes open for updates on this!)

Efforts to build drone management systems are also well underway the world over. In Singapore, the government and researchers are pushing to test their drone traffic management system which includes dedicated virtual lanes and geofences to keep drones out of certain areas by the end of 2017. In China, eCommerce giant has partnered with the northern Chinese province of Shaanxi to set up a low altitude drone logistics network covering the whole province. According to reports in Chinese media, this logistic network will monitor and control the flight of everything from small drones to large transport drones.

I’m sure you’re as excited as me to see what the FAA starts to implement by 2025. Just remember that the FAA’s job is not a simple one. This March, at the Unmanned Aircraft System Symposium FAA chief Michael Huerta said, “Our challenge is to find the right balance where safety and innovation co-exist on relatively equal planes. As we move toward fully integrating unmanned aircraft into our airspace, the questions we need to answer are only getting more complicated.”

Overcoming legal hurdles

Without getting into too much legalese, we need to talk about the law for a minute. The drone superhighway needs a unified legal framework so it can properly operate. If the FAA has one set of regulations and states and cities have another set of regulations, it’s going to get messy real fast. While technically speaking the FAA has jurisdiction to regulate all aspects of civil aviation, this hasn’t stopped local authorities from setting up their own drone laws…because surprise, surprise there are some gray areas!

Drone laws need more legal conformity.

Today, we have a situation where there are over 130 local laws (and much more proposed) in addition to the federal regulations from the FAA. Why would a city want to make their own drone law? In most cases, it ends up boiling down to safety and privacy concerns. Unlike other aircraft, the general population still understands very little about drones and these unknown machines are operating in close proximity to humans and their property. This is why a lot of local authorities feel it is prudent to make their own laws and regulations about drones. Luckily, many are reasonable like the recent law passed in San Diego. Their newly passed law basically takes the FAA regulations for drones and makes them a San Diego city ordinance so police can have a legal basis to issue citations and fines for improper uses of drones.

Other local laws go beyond the scope of FAA regulations and this is what has the potential to create legal hurdles to fully implementing a drone superhighway. For example, Allendale, New Jersey prohibits commercial drone flight in any airspace below 400 feet unless you are directly over a property where you have permission to fly. The city of Orlando, Florida requires a permit to fly a drone which costs $20 per event or $150 per year. If you are caught flying a drone without a permit you will get fined between $200-$400. Then, there is the proposed law making its way through the Oklahoma Senate that would allow property owners to shoot down a drone without risk of a civil penalty.

It’s going to be tough to have a functioning drone superhighway if property owners can blast drones out of the sky, or local towns refuse to allow drones to operate below 400 feet. In order to avoid a situation where there is a patchwork of local laws and regulations on drones, states and municipalities need to communicate with the FAA and follow the guidelines which have already been issued to help local authorities create laws that are in line with their larger plans to safely integrate drones into the national airspace.

Next week in part three of this series we will look at beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) drone operation, the possibility of fully autonomous drones, and how Trump administration policies could be used to advance the drone superhighway.

Stay tuned!

Simulyze’s Mission Insight integrates multiple flight operations into a single interface. Here you can see the location of the Flirtey drone, barge, battery charge, altitude, and more.

The number of commercial unmanned aircraft, or drones, in the U.S. is projected to grow tenfold over the next five years, according to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The agency said the key factor in its estimates of commercial drone growth is in “how quickly the regulatory environment will evolve, enabling more widespread routine uses of drones for commercial purposes.”

The FAA has been wrestling with the question of how to safely integrate drone into the National Airspace System (NAS) and existing FAA workflows for quite a while now. It’s released a number of regulations to address drone flight – from the Section 333 Exemption to the latest regulations released last summer, getting it “right” is not only a matter of public safety, but it also affects the future of the commercial drone industry.

There are quite a few enterprising companies and organizations working in cooperation with the FAA and other U.S. government agencies on the task of helping find the best – and safest – solution. Testing exercises like last June’s Disasters ‘Do Tank’ event help make the case for the technology and best practices required to safely integrate UAS.

The Disasters ‘Do Tank’ event took place at the Cape May-Lewes Ferry Terminal in North Cape May, N.J. and was the first ship-to-shore drone delivery demonstration in the U.S. Featuring independent drone delivery service Flirtey and Dr. Timothy Amukele, assistant professor of pathology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the event demonstrated the potential use of UAS to deliver medical supplies during a natural disaster or humanitarian crisis. The drone flights were flown round-trip from a ship located about ½-mile offshore to the Cape May Ferry Terminal in North Cape May, N.J.

In support of the demonstration flights, my company, Simulyze, deployed its Mission Insight application to manage UAS data and create real-time 3D maps of what a drone is encountering, offering a wealth of information on everything from motor speeds and energy use to a complete picture of what’s around the drone and how it can best reach its destination.

The ship-to-shore delivery served as a useful template for how to integrate data from drones into existing data flow and make it possible for drones to operate safely in the NAS. The demonstration, which included processing and visualizing data about ships, manned aircraft and UAVs, further emphasized the critical need for having a broader, real-time picture than just knowing the location of your drone.

The drone delivery demonstration revealed three key factors for safely integrating commercial drones in the NAS.

Employing Best Practices

Safely flying and integrating UAS into the NAS requires a multi‐tiered approach for risk management. The ship-to-shore drone delivery event helped establish a template that could be combined with a traffic management system, such as the research platform being developed by NASA, to support safety from the perspectives of both UAS and other aviation in the NAS. In addition, coordinating with manned aviation through a portal like the FAA’s Flight Service Station, for example, is another necessary aspect of this approach.

Putting these safety best practices into action for UAS operations requires that the operator be able to analyze and measure internal and external elements and assess the potential risks they could pose to an operation. As commercial operators, recognizing and mitigating risks is crucial to maintaining safe practices.

Leveraging Operational Intelligence 

The Disasters ‘Do Tank’ ship-to-shore drone delivery exercise demonstrated that use of operational intelligence (OI) is an essential best practice for maintaining UAS flight safety. The UAS flights during the event showcased an ability to collaborate and coordinate with both the UAS and larger aviation communities. At the event, Simulyze’s Mission Insight OI application provided safe operations and delivered information to UAS operators by coordinating with the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center.

Four tiers of information were used to support safe flight operations including static planning data, regional data, local real‐time data and UAS telemetry data. Mission Insight provided the aircraft telemetry and other local data back to FAA’s Tech Center platform located in Atlantic City. The Mission Insight application processed the telemetry data in real-time and supplied an integrated display of FAA aircraft data. It also provided weather information, real-time alerts of flight boundary violations and other potential flight conflicts and situational awareness to support safe flying within the national and local airspaces.

Achieving Situational Awareness

During the demonstration, Mission Insight offered geospatial dashboard views of the operational data, increasing the capabilities of the ground control station displays. By using an OI application like Mission Insight, the air boss had complete situational awareness to support the safe flight both within the NAS and the surrounding local area.

Ensuring UAS flight safety in the NAS beyond the latest regulations requires collaboration and coordination with an Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) system, like NASA’s research platform, as well as manned flights through NOTAMS, which are advisories containing information regarding essential knowledge to personnel and systems concerned with flight operations. Taking a system like the FAA Flight Service Station into consideration is also essential for collaboration.

Ensuring safety requires real‐time situational awareness and coordination of not just the UAS’s location but the environment in which it is operating. All of these layers offer advanced safety information to support safe operations for both manned and unmanned flights. The last tier of safe flight support involves detect and avoid and vehicle-to-vehicle communications.

As the FAA has implemented the small UAS rule (Part 107) and continues to release new regulations, the future is bright with many exciting possibilities.

The ship‐to‐shore test flights during the summer of 2016 demonstrated the real‐time situational awareness features of the multi‐layer approach to safely operating UAS in the NAS. OI is a key tool for providing the visibility and insight into data that will help ensure UAS flight safety as more drones enter the National Airspace. By presenting a single, complete operational overview of post workflow data that provides deep analytics, real-time processing, insight and intelligence that support informed decision making, OI can manage an entire data workflow from pre-operational planning to post-event analysis, as well as integrate data sources for complete tactical situational awareness

Many of the findings achieved during the ship-to-shore event are now being used in other UAS efforts to further humanitarian solutions, as well various commercial operations. These findings will support the continuing innovation and safe integration of unmanned aircraft into the highly complex network that compromises the National Airspace.

Elaine Chao testifies during her confirmation hearing to be the next U.S. secretary of transportation before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee as her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell looks on. CREDIT: Getty Images

On Wednesday this week, President-elect Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Transportation, Elaine Chao spoke to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee about her plans to tackle America’s infrastructure problem.

Chao, the former Secretary of Labor under President George H.W. Bush, stated during her hearing that the federal government has not kept pace with emerging technologies, including such advances as autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence.

Throughout her speech, Chao affirmed the importance of safety regulations, especially as these types of technologies continue to develop and become more commonplace. “Regulatory decisions should be rooted in analysis derived from sound science and data,” she said.

Although the drone industry saw a major breakthrough in terms of regulations with Part 107, this is more good news, which could spell an even friendlier environment for the development of drone businesses and commercial UAV operators.

Chao worked extensively with the Federal Aviation Administration during her tenure as undersecretary of transportation, which positions her to make well-informed and knowledgable decisions about modernizing the national air traffic control system. We can reasonably expect to see new FAA rules loosen restrictions on commercial drones.

To take it all one step further, the FAA’s funding is set to expire on September 30. Privatization of air traffic control is going to be a topic on the table of the newly convened 115th Congress. If that transpires, the decisions about regulations for commercial drone operations will be made by those in the industry with hands-on knowledge of what drones are capable of, and the best ways to keep our skies safe.

The second year of the fpvblog can be summed up as a year with high ambitions, a low article count and the welcome of Alastair Baker our first guest author. Chrashpilot, the editor in chief, hopes that the blog will be more active in 2016  (guest authors welcome). He also expects the next year to be a game changer for pilots and the drone industry in general. Read his thoughts about what 2016 might bring. Happy new Year!

The profession and hobby of pioneering enthusiasts has matured further in 2015. The following three major developments of 2015 will continue to influence the next year. First, capable systems can be bought for professional use from DJI (Inspire, Phantoms, S900), who established almost by itself a billion dollar drone market. Secondly, Chinees manufacturers flooded the market with toys and low-end products for unbeatable prices, making “RC drones” an everyday  commodity. The numbers of hobby pilots grew exponentially and drones became the #1 xmas gift for sons and dads with piloting ambitions in their backyard. Thirdly, regulatory bodies around the world, most prominently the FAA are issuing new legislative measures outlawing the use, specific applications or technologies without a written governmental apploval, e.g. registration, pilot license, equipment certification, airspace restriction or paying a fee.

Therefore Crashpilot’s cristall ball foresees the following major developments in 2016:

  1. Drones continue to crash.
  2. A few people will always fly unresponsibly, despite all regulatory efforts. (it’s like speeding on the highway)
  3. “Bad press” from mainstream media continues to  cover crashes and unresponsible drone flights. “Good press” will be less visible on Vimeo,, forums and blogs.
  4. The US government will use its regulatory power to shape a New-Drone-Order, helping domestic corporations and the government to grab a larger piece of the drone market pie. During this process, drones in the hands of private people without a pilot license or FAA certified equipment will be banned. Sad, but bobbyist have no lobby.
  5. New drone models can not legally be announced on Kickstarter anymore (Zippy, Hexo+, Yeair), except Fotokites. Instead, only large corporations such as GoPro, Amazon or Google will have the capacity to develop and promote FAA certified drones.
  6. A small professional FPV racing league will be established in countries with lower regulatory hurdles outside the US.

What do you think will happen in 2016? Please leave a comment. Happy new Year! Fly hard, fly save!

Happy 2016

Hey, chap!
Before you start to explore the world through the eyes of drone technology, there are certain terms and conditions that you should make yourself familiar with. First article by guest author Alastair Baker.

Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) is the government organization in the US that imposes the rules and regulations on commercial aircrafts, like drones. Their regulations are often copied by other countries, but there is no guarantee. Please make yourself known if flying outside the US, the regulations might be totally different. In the US, the use of small unmanned aircraft systems is allowed for aerial photography, crop monitoring, inspection and research development under these new rules.

The national airspace is a restricted area and you can easily violate rules that can land you into legal trouble. To avoid such unfortunate incidences, you should make yourself acquainted with these policies before you take your new drone out for a spin.

Below listed are the 9 most important parts of the new proposed rule by FAA that would apply to every quadcopter in the market.


Personal and commercial uses of aircrafts are only allowed for drones that fall under the category of small unmanned aircraft systems. A drone is small if it weighs less than 55 lbs and owning of any quadcopter more than this load is a violation of FAA law.


You are authorized to fly your drone under less than 500 feet and anything above it will be considered as an intrusion in the national airspace.


The allowed flight speed is less than 100 mph. So next time you are cruising your drone in the air, make sure you don’t cross this FAA obligated speed limit.


Flying of aircrafts over bystanders is considered a felony and you can be criminally charged for it.


You should always maintain a visual contact with your drone. This can be done by practically viewing it or by monitoring its position through your Smartphone screen.


Only daylight flights are allowed and flying of drones during the night times is considered illegal.
Airspace regulations in the US


Whenever you take your new drone for a flight, a responsible operation should be conducted. If any damage is done to someone’s property because of your drone, you will be charged for it.


You are allowed to operate only one drone at a time. Multiple flight sessions are illegal and should be avoided at all cost.


Every time you take your drone for a flight, you should always conduct a thorough inspection. This is not only an FAA rule but will also help you avoid any crash or detect any problems before the occurrence of any incident.

These rules have opened the door for agricultural drones and are fairly simple to abide by. Enjoy every moment of your flight sessions with your quadcopter and fly responsibly.

Guest author Alastair Baker is a dedicated drone enthusiast from Iowa, USA. He works for a specialized drone dealership headquartered in Sioux City run by a handful of experts where he helps customers to find the right drone for their needs (e.g. agricultural drones). He follows the FAA rules closely due to his professional and private interest into the hobby. Please welcome Alastair to the FPVblog!