In this article, I have selected an industry insider Travis Moran to speak on issues relating to the FAA Reauthorization in particular to section 2209 and how this significant legislation could be the key for BVLOS. Energy companies who are prepared to understand aviation regulations and how sUAS can benefit them by lowering overall operational costs to improving safety and protecting infrastructure. I also spent much of 2015 and 2016 visiting numerous energy companies and associations in Washington, DC. Time and time again the number one thing they wanted was to use sUAS for was security around their facilities. Many things have changed since then with Part 107 allowing operators to use small drones, now the next hurdle I believe will be in granting BVLOS to protect critical infrastructure.
Rob Thompson: Travis what initial thoughts do you have about the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 Section 2209 (FESSA 2209) from a security management of critical infrastructure side of the house?
Travis Moran: FESSA 2209, is the framework for the safe integration of drones with critical infrastructure. Small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS/drones) have quickly become one of the most pressing security issues of the 21st Century for critical infrastructure (CI) asset owners and operators. Finding reliable and scientifically valid methods to identify and interrupt intruding drones is a first seat place holder at the top of most CI security manager’s lists. Unfortunately, in today’s current National Air Space (NAS) regulatory environment, this list will remain in the wish column versus the completed column for quite some time.
Indeed, as much as there is a desire for CI to find remedies in order to mitigate the threat they perceive from rogue drone operations, there is an equal desire on the behalf of dozens of companies seeking to fulfill CI’s wishes with counter drone services. Currently, in my opinion, there is perhaps no greater unfulfilled market space in drone commerce than in counter-drone technologies.
Rob Thompson: What seems to be the problem with moving CI forward in regards to sUAS uses?
Travis Moran: In order for there to be a solution, there first has to be recognition that there is a problem – I think we are there. Some of the brightest minds are laser-focused on coming up with technologies to detect and disrupt airborne drones. That is great. However, the true problem lies, as it often does, in the hands of government. Ever since sUAS/Drones were classified as aircraft, all bets about rapid drone integration were off. Simply put, the Government considers sUAS/drones as aircraft, just like any other plane, jet, or helicopter, which means that any interference with either the aircraft or its pilot is considered a felony. It is that serious. Which brings us back to the point, there has got to be a solution going forward.
Rob Thompson: What are some of the legislative solutions for CI to move sUAS issues forward?
Travis Moran: The SAFETY ACT. During a recent discussion with the Electricity Subsector’s Physical Security Advisory Group, I threw out the idea of utilizing the Safety Act to provide a method for owners and operators of critical infrastructure to utilize drone mitigation technology without legal liability. Quite simply, the Safety Act, which is administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), allows for companies that have anti-terrorism technologies to be shielded from liability claims should the technology be deployed in an anti-terrorism operation. Herein lies the benefit. If we can extend this protection to both drone mitigation technology and critical infrastructure owners and operators, we are making progress in our protection posture. In our current state, we cannot interfere with these “aircraft” due to the concerns about liability on the ground i.e., what happens when it comes down. Imagine if a critical infrastructure site near a high-speed interstate highway deploys a mitigation technology that downs a drone onto that highway – you get the point.
Rob Thompson: What are the main points of Identification and Classification of CI?
Travis Moran: Identification and Classification: So there’s going to have to be a method to vet just what is and what is not critical infrastructure – right down to its true vulnerability, location, and propensity to cause a massive failure event of some type – power, water, gas, airports et cetera.
Rob Thompson: What do you see as the framework in the Assessments process?
Travis Moran: Assessments: I see it as an application process whereby asset owners (most are privately owned) select those facilities they feel are worthy of this application. An assessment team would then have to certify that the asset is indeed worthy of a permanent flight restriction, as well as the deployment of any type of mitigation technology. Because, honestly, mitigation is going to have to have a seat at the table because the bad eggs really do not care about imaginary lines anyway. The assessment teams would also have to weigh the risks of collateral damage from the deployment from any mitigation technology if a flight restriction is authorized and do the risk/benefit analysis for the population at large.
Rob Thompson: What would the certification process look like to help streamline asset owners?
Travis Moran: Upon a successful inclusion assessment, the assessor, whether 3rd party or governmental, would then have to certify onsite. This means they would not be allowed to take the list of the sites with them because, quite frankly, most owners and operators of critical infrastructure do not exactly trust the government with their information, and, unfortunately, they have some historical precedence for this distrust. In compromise, the owners and operators would be required to maintain the list in a secure fashion and update the assessment every year or so – similar to how the electricity industry is handles compliance under the NERC CIP-014 rules. Now certainly the assessor can simply leave the site and write the facility identification and location down at their convenience. However, if this process is codified, along with penalties for disclosure (similar to Protected Critical Infrastructure Information disclosure rules) such a practice would be discouraged and carry penalties.
Rob Thompson: Why should CI asset owners want this to be controlled?
Travis Moran: It has to be measured. When you consider how many electric facilities alone are in the United States, it is not hard to see the problem if every site is included.
Rob Thompson: Who is Going to Pay for All of This?
Travis Moran: The problems and potential solutions I have outlined are, by anyone’s guess, enormous. This is quite simply another whole mini-bureaucracy to effectively manage. Which begs the question, who is going to pay? Is this something that is primarily a taxpayer driven program? Or, is it one that is partially supported by application fees on the behalf of the owners and operators and will it be a one-time expense or will there be annual renewal fees? If so, guess what, base rate increases for all types of things will most likely be passed along to consumers to include electricity, gas, and water and so on.
Rob Thompson: What about BVLOS? At the recent Senate UAS Hearing, which I know you attended, there seemed to be quite a bit of interest on the behalf of energy companies wanting additional BVLOS waivers. What do you see as the prospects for additional waivers?
Travis Moran: I think they can be good, even though there is some skepticism on the committee centering on safety and privacy. The savings in terms of money and the increased safety when using drones for inspection operations cannot be underestimated and it is simply a common-sense business proposition for them. Additionally, you will also see the adoption of drones more readily integrated into natural gas line inspections and monitoring as well. BVLOS waivers are only going to increase. I think that one of the best ways to move forward on BVLOS is to have the energy companies involved in the legislative process because they stand to gain the economically from the use of sUAS in security, monitoring assets, and gaining real-time intelligence. In my mind, the goal is to bring the consumer and supplier market, inclusive of c-UAS technologies, together for both business and security. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive.
Travis Moran is Managing Consultant at Navigant
Rob Thompson is a reporter for sUAS News and Government Affairs – Aviation Policy & Regulations at Falcon Foundation UAS.