The following are some observations made at the Drone Advisory Committee meeting held in Reno, Nevada on January 31, 2017.
First, I have to state that I am not new to the standards bodies or the RTCA. I started working with the SC-203 in 2006 (ASTM May 2005, Reno) and was on the small UAS Subcommittee. It was determined that my RTCA experience predates the FAA reps and the current head of the 228 committees. I don’t want to go into too much detail about that experience, but think it is worthy to note that the 203 lost momentum after about of decade with little to show. I can’t blame the RTCA as the FAA vacillated between the RTCA and ASTM being the blessed standards group effort.
The observations –
Way too many people (40+/-) way too many people when you are on such an aggressive schedule as it can hinder progress and I believe this instance might be one where less is more. Much of the subject matter and assumptions are close to the same as those discussed and pondered a decade ago. I am surprised that we are still talking about “risk-based” and “performance-based standards” without data or science to back any of the assumptions up, as we should all be.
Industry professionals are trying to say the technology has changed, and so have the issues. I disagree, as we are still talking about integrating aircraft into an existing National Airspace System (NAS). The distinction needs to be made: is it aircraft or the Internet that we are talking about integrating into the NAS? Either I missed something, or the FAA is doing a big fat 180 on the whole aviation NAS thing. We must also understand that this is supposedly a near-term effort, 12 to 24 months. Some folks are suggesting that there are technology solutions for these integration problems. Silicon Valley has a sort of dog year’s scale going so far; people mention a Holy Grail technological solution without understanding about 95% of what is involved, putting themselves about ten years before implementation.
Other disturbing observations –
Who is going to pay for it all? I think that is a fair question, but if one runs the FAA’s numbers and you exclude the Part 101 (non-regulated hobby participants) the commercial user fees are going to be incredibly high to fund several hundred million dollars worth of infrastructure. VC spoiler alert: some simple arithmetic suggests you may not be getting your money back anytime soon, if at all.
It appears that the more money your company has, the better your comments are received. I don’t know if it was a job fair or some sort of a tech gone wild love fest, but the some of the notions espoused were a little out there.
While we are at it, I asked the industry co-chair, Nancy Egan, about her affiliation with 3DRobotics as I hear they are down to a skeleton crew. She suggested I ask 3DR which I said I would do publicly (see the tweet) however; I doubt they will respond. She suggested that it was because I was mean. Hmmm, mean or folks are a little touchy about being called on a hundred million dollars worth of gross mismanagement? My advice to folks in the business: if you don’t like me bringing things up, don’t make a mistake in the first place, or just try to own it. Lack of accountability at these levels costs everyone in the industry progress. With that experience in mind, I believe the RTCA leadership has a fiduciary duty to define the co-chair’s employment and reconsider representation from a company that was apparently so far off the industry mark. And that does not even take into consideration the Registration Taskforce debacle. Pity, as we are left with a Chinese company doing all of the heavy lifting on the recommendations for the U.S. NAS and end-user.
The meeting was public, and so I did Periscope a portion of the proceedings held before lunch, but after the break RTCA President, Margaret Jenny made a statement that video was not allowed. There should be more transparency in the rulemaking process, so people don’t continue to falsely believe that more progress is being made than is in reality.
I also took a good number of pictures of the slides and a video, posted on Twitter during the meeting @suasnews If you don’t like your information filtered check out @thedronedealer feed.
Lately, it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been. ;-)