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FAA/UAS – “The First meeting of the Drone Advisory Committee Will Come to Order”

On Friday September 16th, the FAA convened the first Drone Advisory Committee meeting.  Over 400 organizations and individuals applied for membership but, in the end, 34 were accepted.  You can see the complete list here.

Many members were the same as you would expect for an aviation advisory committee in Washington (e.g. AOPA, HAI, Harris, Lockheed Martin, ALPA, American Air Lines, etc.), but many were from nontraditional aviation companies like Facebook, Amazon, CNN, and Google [X].  State and local governmental entities were also represented, including the Mayor of San Francisco, The National Association of Counties, Los Angeles and Reno Airport authorities.  Of course, the UAS industry was well represented by Boeing Insitu, General Atomics, 3D Robotics, Matternet, DJI, Precision Hawk, etc.  As you can see below, there was a full house at the meeting.


The meeting was also attended by the most senior of the FAA senior management.  Administrator Michael Huerta charged the group with helping the FAA to determine the agenda for the DAC and the FAA as they look beyond Part 107.  He wanted the group to help the FAA “get it right.”

The DAC’s objectives for the first year include:

  • Understanding the current plans of the FAA to achieve full integration,
  • Advising the FAA Administrator of the gaps in those plans,
  • Reaching consensus on a five year plan for the FAA.

The DAC agreed to form two working groups to take on:

  1. The apparent disconnect between the FAA preemption authority over all airspace and the lack of FAA authority to deal with the misuse of drones (other than unsafe operations).
  2. Certification/approval of aircraft to fly over people and beyond visual line of sight.

Plane-ly Spoken believes the DAC will take some time to spool up, but has great potential to help the FAA find a way forward beyond Part 107 that will accelerate UAS integration into the US Airspace.  Count on Plane-ly Spoken to keep you advised.

FAA/UAS – “The First meeting of the Drone Advisory Committee Will Come to Order”

UAS Webinar Series – Drones & Insurance: The Next Steps!

We would like to offer our thanks for the huge turnout we had for our free webinar on UAS Webinar Series – Drones & Insurance: The Next Steps!  For those of you who could not make it, we are providing a downloadable version of the slides used, as well as a link to the full presentation so that you can listen at your leisure.

UAS Webinar Series – Drones & Insurance: The Next Steps!

NTSB: “Sully” A Good Movie, but . . .

It’s too bad that despite having such a good story to tell, Hollywood, perhaps not surprisingly, felt they needed a villain.    Maybe they felt that if they made the birds the villains, they would incur the anger of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).  After all, PETA is pretty litigious.  Maybe the moviemakers didn’t want to incur the wrath of the Canadian moviegoing public by appearing to blame Canada?

Predictably, the film makers picked an always easy target . . . . the Federal Government, specifically the National Transportation Safety Board.  After all, everyone is ready to accept the worst when it comes to how the Feds are acting.  The only problem is that this time, Hollywood was wrong.  No, that’s not true.  They were colossally wrong!

Instead of just going to see the movie, (which, by the way, with the exception of the misguided and wrong portrayal of the NSTB) is pretty good, read the transcript of the NTSB factual hearing of the accident [Link].  It was held on June 9-10, 2009, and Sully’s testimony is found on pages 23 to 51.  Judge for yourself from the verbatim transcript, whether the portrayal of the NTSB process or the investigators in the movie is accurate.

I represented/assisted the airline during the investigation and, at least as I recall, there was never a hint of a “prosecutorial” approach by the NTSB investigators.  Since the issue arose, I have confirmed my recollection with several other people who were involved in the events following the accident.  In fact, like everyone, my perception of the NTSB investigation is that they, like a lot of us, were in awe of the airmanship displayed by both Captain Sullenburger and and First Officer (now Captain) Jeff Skiles.  The crew was, from everything I heard and saw throughout the investigation, treated deferentially.

Did the NTSB investigate everything?  Yes.  Did they question and examine the decision making process in the cockpit?  Absolutely.  In short, did they do their job?  They did.

Hollywood however has chosen to, unjustifiably, portray the NTSB as villains …a government agency determined to blame the pilots.  Investigators out to get their man.

In the name of dramatic license, maybe the moviemakers felt that by creating a villain, they further emphasized the heroic feat of Captain Sullenberger and First Officer Skiles.  Maybe, following a formulaic approach that every movie needs a villain, they felt it necessary to demonize the NTSB.

The simple fact however, is that no matter what the justification, it wasn’t justified.  Captain Sullenberger and First Officer Skiles were, in may respects, doing their job.  It just so happened that in performing their job, they displayed an awesome degree of airmanship, calm and skill.  They were a testament to the quality of their training from US Airways and to the airplane they were flying.  They were and are representative of everything we, as passengers, want to believe is flying our airplane.

The moviemakers really had more than enough heroics to tell a good story.  In doing so, it’s too bad they felt it necessary to denigrate the motives, skill and professionalism of the NTSB.

Go see the movie, but don’t believe everything you see  . . .

NTSB: “Sully” A Good Movie, but . . .

NTSB/TWA 800 Conspiracies Gone Wild!

Over the years, aviation has, not surprisingly, given birth to conspiracy theories.  Everything from the events of 9/11 to the moon landing to the disappearance of MH370, have been the focus of those who choose to believe in the sinister…the “X-Files” of aviation.

Not surprisingly, the events surrounding TWA 800 have, since the day they occurred, attracted the conspiracy theorists.

It’s not easy to find, but there’s a recent article pointing the finger at the NTSB as being a party to a cover-up of what really happened to TWA 800 in 1996.  The author, who also wrote a book about “what really happened”, is both highly critical of, and cynical towards, the current leadership of the Board, including Chairman Chris Hart and General Counsel David Tochen.

As someone who was involved in the events surrounding TWA 800 and its investigation, things are almost always what they seem to be.  In this case, an accident.  Not a conspiracy.  Not a cover-up.  Rather an explosion associated with the fuel system.

Constructing elaborate conspiracy theories is certainly not a difficult exercise.  All it takes is a few facts and a good imagination.  Hollywood does it all the time.

What’s unfortunate about the TWA 800 conspiracy theories and their proponents is the finger pointing they engage in.  The most noteworthy thing about TWA800, other than the investigation itself, was the tug of war which took place between the FBI and the NTSB over which agency was going to take the lead in the investigation.  Ultimately, after it was determined there was no criminal wrongdoing, the FBI ceded the lead to the NTSB.  Subsequently, the two investigative agencies more sharply defined their respective roles, and in the 20 years since TWA 800, the spectacle of who leads an aviation investigation has not been repeated, at least not as between the FBI and NTSB.

If one wants to construct and believe in a conspiracy, in almost any situation there’s no shortage of opportunities to do so, particularly one where you can weave the CIA into the theory.  The opaque nature of the CIA makes it very easy to point the finger at Langley as the “bad guys” who have subverted an investigation by some other government agency, in this case, the NTSB.

But, in most cases, accidents are what they seem to be, namely accidents.  It’s okay not to accept that fact, but it’s unfortunate, when, as here, the conspiracy theorists choose to impugn the integrity of the NTSB.

NTSB/TWA 800 Conspiracies Gone Wild!


Today is a good day to go flying.  The sky is blue, the winds are calm, and Part 107 is now in effect.  Under the new system, commercial UAS operators can fly closer to people, closer to airports, and carry cargo.  They no longer need visual observers, can hand off control of their UAS to a second pilot while in flight, and can train non-pilots to fly.  They no longer need exemptions, COAs, or government review of the safety features of the make and model of aircraft.  Of course, no one is actually doing any of this today.

Over the past two months, the FAA has been doing all of the “behind the scenes” work to get the new systems up and running.  UAS pilot certificate tests and study materials had to be created.  Knowledge centers had to be prepared to give the tests.  The new waiver system had to be created, along with the entire infrastructure to handle the online submission of waiver petitions.  Procedures had to be worked out to handle UAS flight in class B, C, D and E airspace and how UAS pilots will interface with air traffic control.  The fact that any of this is ready to go on the first day is a major accomplishment.

Now that the FAA’s preparations are finished, the flying public can actually start making their own preparations actually use the system.  Pilots can start taking tests and getting their background checks.  Operators can learn how to get authorizations from air traffic control.  Businesses can start submitting waiver petitions for night flights or other, more advanced operations.  No doubt there will be a learning curve for both regulators and the regulated as they adapt to the new system, but we are confident progress will come quickly.

So, while the future is looking bright, the great irony is that the only people actually able to go flying today will be those who have a Section 333 exemption.



Part 107 Waivers, Exemptions, and Certifications: How to do all the things you can’t do

We would like to offer our thanks for the huge turnout we had for our free webinar on Part 107 Waivers, Exemptions, and Certifications: How to do all the things you can’t do.  For those of you who could not make it, we are providing a downloadable version of the slides used, as well as a link to the full presentation so that you can listen at your leisure.

Part 107 Waivers, Exemptions, and Certifications: How to do all the things you can’t do


Beyond visual line of sight package delivery has been promoted as the “holy grail” of UAS technology.  Major players have devoted enormous amounts of time and effort into creating the missing technological pieces.  At the same time, armies of lobbyists have been deployed to try to get the Congress to speed up, or in some cases, completely circumvent, the FAA and its time consuming, methodical rulemaking process.

Based on all of this work, it was surprising to hear that the United States Postal Service Office of Inspector General is taking a hard look at the entire premise.  The following paragraph was slipped into the middle of a lengthy “Fact Sheet,” issued by the White House earlier this month, entitled “New Commitments to Accelerate the Safe Integration of Unmanned Aircraft Systems:”

Exploring the public’s views on using unmanned aircraft for the delivery of mail or packages: Technological innovation is rapidly transforming what is possible in the world of delivery. One of the innovations that is gaining extensive attention is delivery by unmanned aircraft, but to date little research has been done on public support for the concept. Today, the United States Postal Service Office of Inspector General is announcing its intention to publish new findings and analysis on the public’s rapidly-evolving opinion of drone delivery as a potential future logistics technology. Several topics are covered in the study, including the opinion of survey respondents to unmanned aircraft delivery’s overall appeal, its most and least compelling applications, the believability of claims about its potential benefits, the public’s expected timeframe for implementation of operations, potential downsides of the proposed technology, and how the public would view drone delivery if it were offered by the U.S. Postal Service and a small collection of other interested organizations.

As the August 29th implimentation date for Part 107 draws ever closer, now is probably the best time for this type of study.  Often times, everyone associated with an industry, including lawyers, get caught up in the exciting question of whether or not something can be done.  Will the technology work?  What laws need to be changed?  What are the possibilities?  Sometimes the more fundamental question of whether it should be done slips through the cracks.

At the end of the day, package delivery is a service.  It is a very important service that virtually everyone in the United States relies on in one way or another on a daily basis.  If “on demand” drone package deliver is not something the public has interest in, then no matter how good the technology is and how accommodating the regulators are, the entire endeavor fails.  Regardless of its utility, if people find the service annoying or intrusive, or the reality of the service does not match the hyped expectations, it will never meet its true potential.

Of course, the last massive technological and regulatory challenge faced by the Post Office was the rise of private package delivery companies such as UPS and FedEx, which ultimately captured the most lucrative parts of the business.  The results of the study may show us how the Postal Service will respond to this new challenge.  Will the study be used as an excuse to do nothing, or provide a justification to leap into the market with ever resource it can muster?  We will all know the answer soon.


The UAS Webinar Series

Part 107 Waivers, Exemptions, and Certifications

How to Do All the Things You Can’t Do

Wednesday, August 17, 2016
1–2:30 p.m. ET

Event details

Webinar – no charge


  Part 107 goes into effect on August 29, 2016. The new regulations are flexible, but there are still many things that you cannot do . . . or can you? Part 107 established a system of waivers to help people unlock additional opportunities such as flight over people, at night, or from a moving vehicle. In addition, the exemption process is not going away. It can still be used to go beyond what the waivers permit, such as operating a vehicle weighing over 55 pounds. Finally, what about things like autonomous beyond visual line of sight package delivery? Is vehicle certification the answer?

This webinar, one of our continuing series, will answer these questions as well as provide you with the latest developments. Among the topics we will address:

  • Part 107 Waivers, what can you do and how do you get one?
  • What is the role of the Exemption process?
  • Aircraft certification and unlocking the full potential of UAS technology.
  • New guidance from the FAA on Part 107 pilot certification.
  • Impact of the FAA reauthorization on UAS regulatory efforts.

Join Jim Williams (former Manager, FAA UAS Integration Office), Mark McKinnon and Mark Dombroff for this important UAS Webinar.


Please contact Barbara Butler at +1 703 336 8704 or Gennaro Della Gatta at +1 212 398 5761.


The UAS Webinar Series

You’re Invited: UAS Insurance Association General Meeting

Meeting of the UAS Insurance Association

July 28, 2016

1:00 pm – 2:30 pm eastern



  • Introductions
  • Mission
  • The Founding Board
  • Website -www.uasinsurance.org
  • Membership
    • Insurers/Brokers
    • Risk Managers
    • Operators
    • Manufacturers
    • Government
    •  Attorneys
    • Others
  • Dues
  • Sponsorships
  • Advocacy
    • FAA Micro UAS Working Group
    • FAA UAS Advisory Committee
  • Meetings
  • Programs
    • Webinars – August 17
  • Publications
  • Regulatory Update
    • Part 107
    • Waivers/Exemptions
You’re Invited: UAS Insurance Association General Meeting

UAS/FAA – Flame Throwers and Glocks!!

Last month, we wrote about a new case that was going to require a federal court to determine whether or not an unmanned aircraft is an “aircraft.” The judge issued his opinion this week, and his decision is not a surprise to those of us who practice aviation law.

By way of background, the Court was asked to enforce an administrative subpoena issued by the FAA to Mr. Haughwout, who had achieved a certain amount of notoriety for several videos where he fired a flame thrower and a hand gun from a UAS.  The subpoenas were the first steps taken by FAA in pursuit of possible civil penalties.  Mr. Haughwout had refused to cooperate in the investigation or respond to the subpoena, claiming that the FAA has no jurisdiction over small UAS.

In his written opinion, Judge Meyer noted that federal agencies have broad authority to investigate whenever there is reasonable ground to believe that there is a violation of federal law.  Here, 14 C.F.R. § 91.13 prohibits the careless or reckless operation of an aircraft “so as to endanger the life or property of another.”  The Court held that “there can be no dispute that the weaponized devices shown on the YouTube videos at least give rise to questions about possible danger to life or property.”

Mr. Haughwout, however, claimed that this section was inapplicable because his small UAS was not an aircraft.  The Court rejected that argument, noting that Congress had provided a statutory definition of aircraft that was “stunningly broad,” and includes “any contrivance invented, used, or designed to navigate, or fly in, the air.”  The Court characterized Mr. Haughwout’s claim that the statute could not be given such an expansive definition because it would include baseballs and pizza dough, as “creative.”  The Court held, however, that the FAA is not required to fully define the hypothetical limits of its authority before it takes action.  Rather the question is whether the specific action that is taken by the FAA is permissible.  As a result, the Court held that for purposes of this dispute, Mr. Haughwout’s UAS was an aircraft.

The Court did note, however, that if the FAA ultimately decides to fine Mr. Haughwout for flying on his own property in a way that cannot pose a threat to air commerce, some of his other arguments might be worthy of further consideration.  The federal government does not have a general police power, and ultimately its authority is limited to the reach of the commerce clause.  However, because the FAA’s investigative authority is so broad, the Court concluded that those arguments were best addressed in the context of a well defined and concrete factual record at some point in the future.

So, as expected, this is not the end of the issue.  The FAA will have to conclude its investigation and determine whether they want to formally pursue a penalty.  Mr. Haughwout, who has shown that he is not shy about fighting with the FAA, will ultimately be entitled to a hearing before an administrative law judge, appeal to the NTSB, and potentially appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  As a result, we will no doubt be writing about this saga for years to come.

UAS/FAA – Flame Throwers and Glocks!!