Stakeholders Identified Issues to Address for ‘Advanced Air Mobility’

Spoiler alert! Colossal policy and regulatory mistakes have already happened. I know; wow, what a positive way to start an article about the future of American aviation. Well, it is twenty years of drone airspace integration experience talking here. Golly, there is so much promise.

Why aren’t you more upbeat. Because we’ve all known what the promise of aviation is/was, including unmanned, the bureaucrats damaged its development and use with their bad policy slow burn. At this point, anyone proclaiming a new and novel use for a drone sounds obtuse if that proclamation doesn’t come with a long string of qualifiers i.e., Tuesday afternoon around teatime or flown by someone named Noah.

The first transatlantic flight of a private or commercial drone happened almost a quarter-century ago.

UAM or AAM or whatever they want to call it this week to help throw the VC and folks in Congress off of the long tail of waiting has issues. It looks like it’s not just the pundits noticing the narcoleptic snail’s pace anymore, as we have seen a few class-action lawsuits announced for flying-by-night car companies listed on the stock exchange. Some stockholders feel as though a few of these companies misled them about capabilities, revenue, and timelines. Would-be investors have seen nothing yet! My drone VC investor offer is now expanded to include AAM investors too. Anyone looking to get rid of large sums of cash can PM me for bank transfer information.

I think the sector stocks still have the room to drop like an eVTOL with a delaminated carbon fibre prop.

Folks have been calling me Debbie Downer for darn near two decades, and you can hit the Patrick Rants tab on the sUAS News to read a body of work that highlights the mistakes, missteps, cronyism, and poor policy that are destroying our domestic aerospace ecosystem. I’ve been around long enough to remember when Intel and GoPro had a drone division. ;-)

Don’t say drone 2.0! The “advocates” and “experts” have gone along to get along with FAA favour waivers and exemptions, and that is no way to build (scale for the VC folks) a vibrant and innovative industry. The droners squandered a literal boatload of political goodwill and promise on boardshorts and feelings. Amateur hour in front of Congress with no data to show, some toy flying, and assurances that the industry felt like everything was buttoned down enough for the elected representatives in attendance to bet their careers on it. It begs the question, why didn’t their lobbyists give them better guidance. They tried, but the drone bros and PRC stooges started acting like celebrities and moved on to different lobby groups where they got the reverence they paid handsomely for.

Meanwhile, the manned interests (established aviation) were doing the scary Kabuki, painting a picture of a sky-falling and a NAS that demanded an equivalent level of safety on par with legacy commercial aviation. By the way, has anyone checked the fatalities stats for GA lately? To this day, the industry has not been able to muster a compelling platform and support the assertions made by supposed experts who knew nothing about engineering and even less about public policy. Aviation rulemaking mistakes are grave as even acts of Congress mean little to the FAA.

So, what can the AAM folks glean from the wreck of the old drone 97? Don’t over-promise and then woefully under-deliver. I’m not talking about just hardware here but throwing out blanket talking points that make promises about changing the future of transportation and pie-in-the-sky number cost estimates like forty-six cents a passenger mile! Even the salesperson on the

BestBuy drone aisle knows that sound like someone either got into the pot-brownies or has
little experience with federal regulation.

Don’t believe me? Look at the vertiport designs; how many prop strike flag and light pole opportunities does one need to dodge on takeoff and landing? What about lauded designs with a VTOL pilot landing on a descending well? Have these firms even had the experience of flying a selfie drone off a sidewalk? And while we are at it, what in the Sam Hill happened to all of that Coachella-style lens flare B-roll?

What do we do now? Well, we need to broaden our aviation horizons and decide we don’t want to face the same fate as a legacy aerospace company. Wait, what?! Well, they played the long lobby money game with the 737 MAX, and it wasn’t the FAA that got egg all over the public face. That dastardly tight-lipped test pilot was the real problem. ;-) A few drone heroes inside the FAA did leave under a dark cloud, and the Administrator decided to go early to spend time with his family. Poor old Ali Bahrami took the public FAA 737 Max fall, and we all know why Peggy Gilligan retired.

I want to take a quick minute to wish all those former FAA personnel the best of luck on their new private sector offramps.

On the DoD contracting side, the KC 46 leaves something to be desired. Besides that, everything is going okay there. And finally, the Starliner is probably the last fixed price loss leader legacy effort of its kind. No, I am not just beating up on Boeing. I am just using them as the canary in our domestic aerospace coal mine. The silver lining, no one is talking about the overruns and delays with NASA’s spacesuit and SLS programs. I’ll mention it without trepidation as I am already on the NASA Interplanetary Poo-list.

If the Global War on Terror taught us anything regarding government contracting, it was if it doesn’t make its own cost-plus gravy, leave it alone! In the Western aviation business, one should choose not to be a bag-holder. No, I’m not referring to the AAM stockholders, but I am offering advice for those would-be whistle-on-a-plow cellphone app prophets of the AAM, UAM, and sometimes UTM. You’ve got to ask yourself; how many quarters of a century are you going to be able to hold out? How many scapegoats can one industry conjure up and throw under the bus without stepping on the hoof of the sacred FAA cow? The four to six-quarter VC exit strategy does not usually include bankruptcy. I’ve known a few rich and smart guys who lost everything, including their dignity, when they figured out their stock option wasn’t preferred. You don’t want to be like those losers, do you?

Why did I end with commercial space flight? It is the only example I see for handling the regulator, public, and legacy interests. I have alluded to it in the past and even employed it as such to people and companies who have or had the means to finance the effort for integration. While many have the means financially, they lack the strategic inclination and or understanding necessary to move past a constipated government rulemaking authority and industry praxis stuck in a geopolitical Cold War time warp several decades old. I didn’t use Boeing as an example just to kick them while they are down. I used them to show how poor leadership and hubris could bring down a legacy giant.

The solutions part is coming right up!

What do we do, old negative one? You’ve got three immediate choices, throw A380 loads of cash at the lobbying effort, play decades of standards group grab-ass, or sell your IP off to the Chinese for pennies on the dollar before they poach it anyway. Whatever route you choose, get educated, and look at the only examples that have worked. No, not Light-Sport Aircraft (LSA), as the $35K to $50K aviation-saving aircraft price point never panned out. Not to say there aren’t lessons to be learned, like what can be achieved and or accomplished with lots of money and pressure from an advocacy group(s) that used to have a war chest, plan, political juice, friends in Congress, and leadership that didn’t wear brown clown shoes.

The Commercial space regulatory effort is the example I like. Sure, all the legacy folks thought the whole thing was such an implausible reality that it was viewed only as a joke. I dabbled in commercial space flight, it was also part of the new technology focus at the FAA, and some folks at the UAPO circa 2005 (now UASIO) had worked on commercial space. I also attended the International Symposium on Personal and Commercial Spaceflight in Las Cruces, New Mexico, while on a White Sands TDY for the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command Battle Lab. Yeah, I’m considering applying for a BestBuy drone aisle gig just to round out the resume. ;-)

I had the opportunity to talk with folks I would call visionaries there and in my travels as an advocate for unmanned systems. Even at the conference, the reporter from Popular Science asked what an unmanned systems guy would be doing at a space symposium. I found that query odd as I said, I’m all about lifting PAY-load, and that unmanned business concept reaches across the domains of Land, Air, Sea, and Space.

Ten plus years ago, most discounted the notion of a Commercial space station proposed by Bigelow Aerospace et al. Still, others made jokes about commercial space being on par with that Andy Griffith TV show Salvage-1. Everywhere I went, I would hear the notion of commercial spaceflight mocked and derided. Legacy vendors like Aerojet would say, who in their right mind would want a reusable rocket? Someone without a cost-plus contract? People pointed to SpaceX getting a company saving $2 billion contract from NASA as good money after bad. Thank goodness someone had some foresight, or we would be dependent on the Russians for the ongoing ISS mission. Others from the FAA complained about manned spaceflight certification, which must have caught the ear of the insurance industry as the regulation nomenclature is still “participant” and not “passenger,” as far as I know.

Hey man, I do not see the solutions you promised! I’m not giving it away, so you’ll have to do your research or pay me for mine. The legacy and path taken have proven to be of merit, mainly that the Commercial Space industry came together early on and worked toward a common goal. Very different from the drone model where DoD vendors flush with cost-plus contract money made by developing systems with NASA Access 5/UNITE money ran the regulatory effort like their own little fiefdom. That was until the Chinese took it over with pockets full of cash from the New China Life Insurance Company, aka the PRC. And you know what that did to your industry.

Why do I even bring the travesty up? The GAO report stakeholders mention obstacles and impediments besides the trite old excuses of regulations and certification. Sure, we have the standards fast track nonsense that has been a legacy failure regarding drones. The workforce needed to build, service, and fly all this AAM is more glaring. Many believe that the FAA shot the domestic industry in both feet with regulations and policies that gutted the domestic aviation hardware industry viability, including drone technology. The domestic sector is hamstrung with very little commercial viability, aka scaling potential. Many startups can’t afford to lose several hundred dollars a sortie or even billions of dollars like the Amazon and Google programs.
Bone up on the history, as the saying goes, history favours the brave! ;-)

@TheDroneDealer on Twitter

By 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).