Waiver Watch Continues

We (editorial we) broke the “Asleep At The Bait And Switch” story on the 12th of June 2019: https://www.suasnews.com/2019/06/asleep-at-the-bait-and-switch/

As is now becoming customary, the square game folks (unwashed end-users) reach out with their appreciative emails, texts, and phone calls, encouraged that someone is still looking out for them. The acknowledgement is great, and I appreciate the kind words. The new norm is more questions than answers that follow these stories and the slow-on-the-uptake response from an FAA. The public employees look increasingly foolish as they gallivant around on the bureaucratic platitudes campaign.

The “safety of the NAS” mantra does not in any way describe the actions of the FAA “leadership.” Some have said that the FAA cannot be responsible for knowing if everyone is in compliance. Okay, fair enough. But how many pathfinder and BVLOS waivers have been issued? 39 total, but only a tidy 23 when PrecisionHawk’s 107.31 and 107.33 waivers fell off the compliance board.

The FAA has another favorite broken record in the integration jukebox—“we need data”—and the community has replied with “What data do you need?” and they have hemmed and hawed going on 15-plus years trying to determine what is relevant and what is not. It is plausible that after a decade or so of noodling exactly what data is going to make the magic safely happen. You’d think they’d be chomping at the data collection bit with a program like “Pathfinder” and gleaning every morsel hey could from “The first drone company to earn a waiver from the FAA for BVLOS flight, we offer cutting-edge capabilities enabled by research and policy leadership.”

Safe to assume that the FAA doesn’t regularly check in with the waiver holders to collect that critical and much pined-for data? Any fair-minded person would think the regulator would be keeping tabs if for no other reason than to collect that much-needed DATA! How would the FAA know about the plethora of crashes and aircraft shoot-downs (don’t know if it is the Iranians out here in California), possible violations, or about whether this process worked like a freaking charm? I don’t want to break it down point by point just yet. However, I will say that feedback from folks working the various projects around the country paints a less than rosy picture and would do little to assuage the trepidations of those with a “do no harm” mindset.

Also, before any of you selfie-droner wise guys start giving me that Billy Goats Gruff stuff on the tweeter, I’m not the guy crafting the “rules” and placating the fools.

We all know the saga of the FAA UASIO budgets and progress reports. Earl Lawrence just did not want to share all of the good news in those progress reports, and that’s cool: we wouldn’t want to blow anyone’s hair back when that colossal stack of accomplishments hits the desk. When OMB comes back with its report on what the end-user community is supposedly paying for the integration s#!t show, they had better have an itemized bill of lading along the lines of what folks that file for 107 waivers are expected to produce (#downintheweeds); none of this one-pager budget stuff like the UASIO dolled out. If data is not being collected, what are the motives for issuing the waivers? Is it the safety of the NAS? I don’t see how that could be. When interviewing project pilots about the “special provision” contained in the wavier, it became apparent that many of those provisions were allegedly ignored to Git-R-Done!

Some are asking if this charade is just special-interest Kabuki put on to lock out mom-and-pop. It would appear that those with money hire lobbyists and pay them $50K plus for the waiver and a monthly $5, $10, or $16K maintenance plan to build, maintain, and hard sell the false narrative that these people are “experts” on the Hill and to the FAA. Heck, with enough of a budget, you might even be lucky enough to get picked as the chairperson for the reconstituted DAC and Pony Show! It should go without saying, but I don’t want this one to get by the carpetbagger keynotes: the DAC 2.0 is also tainted and even before it even got off of the pad. Whoever is doing
up the accounting, please make sure and deduct the cost of both DAC’s from the running total.

It would appear that not much in the way of due diligence is being exercised by the FAA when it comes to regulatory oversight. Every day that the waiver stays up on the FAA’s webpage is another day the entire process, and its participants, are openly and publically mocked!

On the Brightside, at least we are finally getting some “public” put back in the rulemaking process! I don’t want folks thinking I am ungrateful for the overdue consideration.

Perfunctory solutions –

At this point, to save face, the FAA (or (DoT) could put out a contract for some scientific research to validate the waiver scheme and determine if the payola racket is even necessary? Heck, ten months went by without the system breaking down, translating into a loss of life on the ground, or bringing down aircraft in Ethiopia or Indonesia that we know of.

The FAA could take a page from the RTCA standards work and put out a call for corporate sponsorships for the feigned “consensus” DAC recommendations work to take a little of the sting out of the bill for the private “public” rulemaking simulation.

Alternatively, the FAA could just let the Chinese toy company implement their PLA-ybook, and cut out the association middlemen. Get rid of the lobbyists and they’d be saving the U.S. taxpayer and drone end-users, as well as themselves some time and a lot of money. Not having to do all of the backroom deals (ex parte communications for you Best Buy Bumpkins) will free the FAA up to keep an eye on the aircraft certification thing. #fasttrack

I emailed interested aviation safety parties all over D.C. about this apparent and possibly egregious oversight. One of the first on the list was Carl Johnson (FAA person on the waiver), to see if he knew what was up, but he informed me that he has since been reassigned to Panama. I sure hope that the reassignment meets and exceeds all of Carl’s expectations.

We are waiting on the replies from the various agencies, people in management, and other interested parties. So stay tuned as we try to ascertain who is in charge of keeping the dying show on the road.

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Patrick Egan
Editor in Field, sUAS News Americas Desk | Patrick Egan is the editor of the Americas Desk at sUAS News and host and Executive Producer of the sUAS News Podcast Series, Drone TV and the Small Unmanned Systems Business Exposition. Experience in the field includes assignments with the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command Battle Lab investigating solutions on future warfare research projects. Instructor for LTA (Lighter Than Air) ISR systems deployment teams for an OSD, U.S. Special Operations Command, Special Surveillance Project. Built and operated commercial RPA prior to 2007 FAA policy clarification. On the airspace integration side, he serves as director of special programs for the RCAPA (Remote Control Aerial Photography Association).