FAA stalled almost 2 years — already cleared 78% of planes in one week

The Federal Aviation Administration’s fight against AT&T’s and Verizon’s new 5G deployment appears to be coming to a temporary close, with the FAA having cleared about 78 percent of US planes for landing in low-visibility conditions. Airline CEOs are striking an upbeat tone, with one saying the process of ensuring that airplane altimeters work in 5G areas is “really not that complicated.”…More approvals will presumably be announced soon, bringing the US closer to 100 percent capacity…

The FAA didn’t start its process of evaluating the actual altimeters used by airplanes after February 2020, when the Federal Communications Commission approved the use of C-Band spectrum for 5G. The FAA also didn’t start this evaluation process after the FCC auctioned off the spectrum to wireless carriers in February 2021. Instead, the FAA continued arguing that 5G deployment should be blocked long after carriers started preparing their equipment and towers to use the C-band.

Harold Feld…senior VP of consumer-advocacy group Public Knowledge, told Ars today…he finds it “increasingly difficult to understand the FAA’s rationale around any of these things, especially given the statements from the [airline] CEOs who actually own and operate this equipment that ‘yeah we’ve done tests, and yeah there’s no problem.'”

Sounds like the FAA needs to replace more than a few bureaucrats. Replace them with techs who know how to test the hardware, test the software and test the regulations.

Billion$ + 10 years = No air traffic control modernization, No final price tag, No end date

The Federal Aviation Administration has little to show for a decade of work on modernizing air traffic control, and faces barriers and billions more in spending to realize its full benefits, says a report released last Tuesday by a government watchdog.

The FAA estimates it will spend a total $5.7 billion to finish its current work on six “transformational” technology programs at the heart of its NextGen modernization effort, said the report by the Department of Transportation’s inspector general. But the agency’s current efforts don’t fully implement the programs, and there are no timetables or cost estimates for completion…

Moreover, there has been “significant ambiguity both within FAA and the aviation community about expectations for NextGen,” including the ability of core programs to deliver important new capabilities, the report said.

Most of the airline industry has made privatizing air traffic control their top legislative goal — with Congressman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., as their champion. They have the support of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union that represents controllers. Paul Rinaldi, the union’s president, said controllers have lost faith in FAA’s modernization effort and want the new air traffic tools they see in use in other countries like Canada, which has privatized air traffic operations.

Most Democrats, other FAA unions and segments of the aviation industry, like business aircraft operators, are opposed to privatization.

“The inspector general’s report at most faults the FAA for describing NextGen programs as ‘transformational’ when they really just improve how the FAA manages air traffic,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the senior Democrat on the transportation committee.

It is far from clear that privatizing the air traffic control system would expedite NextGen and address the issues raised in the inspector general’s report, he said…

Air traffic control never recovered from the Reagan lockout in 1981. The United States muddled through with crap performance made acceptable by the Reagan White House and obedient flunkies in Congress. Trouble is that style of work remained in place over the decades since. Little attention paid to how computer systems have been modernized in both installation and use, common software and updates – and a helluva lot more traffic.

And then there are the lobbyists fiddling how anything is sold to the federal government and where that has gotten to following Reagan models – and Clinton copies of Reagan models.

Arming your drone is legal according to the Feds

…The FAA is currently asking a court in Connecticut to compel Austin Haughwout, a teenager in Connecticut who put a gun and a flamethrower on his homemade drones, to comply with a subpoena that would give them more information about his armed drones. The FAA has not formally accused Haughwout of any wrongdoing.

Jim Williams, the former head of the FAA’s drone office between 2012 and mid 2015, told me that’s because it’s likely he hasn’t done anything wrong. In fact, while he was with the FAA, his team was unable to find any statute that would have allowed them to pursue a legal case against Haughwout or any other pilots who modify their drones to shoot guns…

In December 2015, the FAA’s Office of the Chief Counsel put out a fact sheet for state and local legislators that noted that “prohibitions on attaching firearms or similar weapons to UAS” are “laws [that] are traditionally related to state and local police power.” Williams says that Congress hasn’t given the FAA authorization to specifically prohibit armed drones

Anyone think Congress is up to useful legislation on armed anything?

Wal-Mart applies for permission to test drones for home delivery

Wal-Mart Stores applied Monday to U.S. regulators for permission to test drones for home delivery, curbside pickup and checking warehouse inventories, a sign it plans to go head-to-head with Amazon in using drones to fill and deliver online orders.

The world’s largest retailer by revenue has for several months been conducting indoor tests of small unmanned aircraft systems – the term regulators use for drones – and is now seeking for the first time to test the machines outdoors. It plans to use drones manufactured by China’s SZ DJI Technology Co Ltd.

In addition to having drones take inventory of trailers outside its warehouses and perform other tasks aimed at making its distribution system more efficient, Wal-Mart is asking the Federal Aviation Administration for permission to research drone use in “deliveries to customers at Walmart facilities, as well as to consumer homes,” according to a copy of the application reviewed by Reuters.

The move comes as Amazon.com, Google and other companies test drones in the expectation that the FAA will soon establish rules for their widespread commercial use. FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker said in June that the agency expected to finalize regulations within the next 12 months, faster than previously planned. Commercial drone use is currently illegal, though companies can apply for exemptions…

Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Toporek said, “Drones have a lot of potential to further connect our vast network of stores, distribution centers, fulfillment centers and transportation fleet,” he said. “There is a Walmart within five miles of 70 percent of the U.S. population, which creates some unique and interesting possibilities for serving customers with drones.”

Cripes. Looking at Apple Maps, we just squeak in for 5 miles as the crow flies. I’ll see if I can sign up our little compound for test flights.

Of course, straight-lining it would take them through every flight path over the Municipal Airport. 🙂

French post office intends to use drone delivery

Amazon and Google may have some catching up to do. It turns out the mail service of France, La Poste, has already successfully field-tested a service that can fly a package to a remote area, drop it off and return home…

News reports say from France say the test took place near the town of Pourrières, which is in the southern region of Provence. La Poste has not specified when the service will be in full swing, but suggested that it anticipates using Géodrone to provide service to residents in remote mountainous and maritime regions.

The Géodrone project represents another impressive achievement for France’s emerging unmanned aircraft industry. Earlier this year, drone enthusiasts in the Alps conducted a Star Wars-style pod race in a French forest with the permission of the local government. Meanwhile, a researcher in Holland has showed how an ambulance drone can deliver a defibrillator to a heart attack victim in under two minutes.

Such experiments stand in marked contrast to what is occurring in the United States, where a dysfunctional rule-making process at the Federal Aviation Administration has brought drone deployment to a virtual stand-still, even as American companies are clamoring to use them for business purposes. The U.S. approach also differs markedly from Canada, where authorities have issued hundreds of permits to use drones in everything from farming to real estate to TV production.

The FAA has claimed that go-slow approach is essential to ensure the safety of civilization.

OK, I changed that last word. You get the idea.

Idaho company hopes for agricultural drone approval

vineyard drone
Students fly a research drone over Bitner Vineyards in Caldwell, Idaho

You can buy drones, but you can’t fly them – not legally, not yet.

Brad Ward made that point this week at a University of Idaho forum on geographic information systems. Ward is co-owner of Advanced Aviation Solutions LLC, or Adavso, a Star company seeking to become an authorized user of commercial drones in agriculture…

Ward introduced several drones – varying in size from less than 2 pounds to 8 tons – describing their costs, availability, capabilities and uses in agriculture. He then told his listeners about the spider web of legalities surrounding their use.

Although all could be called unmanned aircraft systems or drones, the names can describe some very different aircraft, he said.

“One is 16,000 pounds, flies over 50,000 feet for 32 hours and is very large, bigger than a 737,” Ward said. “The other is one and a half pounds, you literally shake it three times and the motor starts, and you’re ready to go.”

It’s unfortunate that the poor reputation of the military drone has been applied to the tiny crafts with various commercial uses, Ward said. “And that’s where the FAA came in,” he said.

Most unmanned aircraft cannot be used as intended at this point, except by hobbyists and for research and emergency response by not-for-profit educational and governmental organizations, Edgar said.

Though not linked solely to the American Persona, our character as a nation is thoroughly distorted by both libertarian and religious threads in our history that seem always to link the uses of a device to the device itself. Though, the literate in our society have at least learned to use the term “Luddite” appropriately.

Those so accused usually try to disabuse themselves by countering with a straw man argument like, “I’m not against all technology – just this one!” Completely missing the point of a Luddite definition – which says the technology is to blame for something people do with it. Genetically-modified botanicals or animals being the strongest example in current trends.

RTFA for the hopes and desires of someone simply trying to make a buck from aiding agriculturists in their business. Flying drones over crops to record data which will aid production and quality.

Our government in turn will regulate any use to death rather than try to understand what can be safely accomplished and how. We’re back to laws which required those newfangled automobiles to be preceded along the road by a man carrying a warning lantern.

Thanks, Mike

Cold War spy plane fries FAA computers — shuts down LAX


A relic from the Cold War appears to have triggered a software glitch at a major air traffic control center in California Wednesday that led to delays and cancellations of hundreds of flights across the country…

On Wednesday at about 2 p.m., according to sources, a U-2 spy plane, the same type of aircraft that flew high-altitude spy missions over Russia 50 years ago, passed through the airspace monitored by the L.A. Air Route Traffic Control Center in Palmdale, Calif. The L.A. Center handles landings and departures at the region’s major airports, including Los Angeles International (LAX), San Diego and Las Vegas.

The computers at the L.A. Center are programmed to keep commercial airliners and other aircraft from colliding with each other. The U-2 was flying at 60,000 feet, but the computers were attempting to keep it from colliding with planes that were actually miles beneath it.

Though the exact technical causes are not known, the spy plane’s altitude and route apparently overloaded a computer system called ERAM, which generates display data for air-traffic controllers. Back-up computer systems also failed.

As a result, the Federal Aviation Administration had to stop accepting flights into airspace managed by the L.A. Center, issuing a nationwide ground stop that lasted for about an hour and affected thousands of passengers…

“FAA technical specialists resolved the specific issue that triggered the problem on Wednesday, and the FAA has put in place mitigation measures as engineers complete development of software changes,” said the agency in a statement. “The FAA will fully analyze the event to resolve any underlying issues that contributed to the incident and prevent a reoccurrence.”

In other words, our crap air traffic control software couldn’t understand a problem we generated 50 years ago with old-style technology used to spy on folks. Using it over the West Coast this week.

Sources told NBC News that the plane was a U-2 with a Defense Department flight plan. “It was a ‘Dragon Lady,’” said one source, using the nickname for the plane. Edwards Air Force Base is 30 miles north of the L.A. Center. Both Edwards and NASA’s Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center, which is located at Edwards, have been known to host U-2s and similar, successor aircraft.

The U.S. Air Force is still flying U-2s, but plans to retire them within the next few years.

Uh, the CIA is also still flying U-2s.

This is what the US used for spying on other countries before we caught onto the Soviet Union’s idea of using eye-in-the-sky satellites. The plane’s “operational ceiling” is 70,000 feet. FAA software probably doesn’t normally concern itself with planes flying at that altitude since civilian craft have an operational ceiling well below that.

The computer dicho still rules. Garbage in = garbage out.

Most recently – September 2013 – The Flight Deck Automation Working Group concluded that modern flight path management systems create new challenges that can lead to errors. Uh, yup.

Thanks, Uncle Dave

FAA spoilsports won’t approve beer drone deliveries for ice fishers

A brewery said plans for aerial drone beer deliveries for Minnesota ice fishing houses are on hold after running afoul of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Jack Supple, president of Lakemaid Beer, came up with the plan for using a six-bladed unmanned craft to deliver 12 packs of beer to ice fishing houses and created a YouTube video depicting a test run on Lake Waconia in Carver County…

The video quickly went viral.

“Our Facebook page went wild because our fans loved the idea,” Supple said.

However, Supple said he soon received some bad news from the FAA, which sent him an email explaining commercial use of drones is not yet permitted.

“Our concern is the safety of people on the ground and the safety of people in the air,” FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Coryn said…

“I see what they’re talking about. When you think of all of the people who are going to come up with ways to use these, the regulation of it is going to be important, so they’re learning as fast as we are,” Supple said.

Face it. The Feds are a bunch of stiffs who are concerned that some plastic-chainstore brewery like Budweiser didn’t come up with the idea, first. I think Lakemaid Beer should get an open-ended trial and go ahead and do the work for the FAA. Plenty of room for slippery landings on frozen lakes in Minnesota.

Test Sites chosen for civilian, private use of drones

The U.S. approved drone test centers in six states, including New York, as the start of research efforts to eventually allow civilian unmanned aircraft widespread access to the nation’s airways.

The Federal Aviation Administration, after sifting through 25 applicants, also approved bids from Alaska, Nevada, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia…

The selection is one of the first U.S. regulatory moves to begin integrating unmanned aircraft with piloted planes and helicopters as companies including Amazon.com…push to develop commercial drones…

The test sites will be used to help the FAA develop certification standards for unmanned aircraft and how they can be operated within the air-traffic system, according to the law requiring the sites…

The winners were the University of Alaska, which also has test sites located in Hawaii and Oregon; the state of Nevada; Griffiss International Airport in Rome, New York, which also plans to use a facility in Massachusetts; the North Dakota Department of Commerce; Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi; and Virginia Polytechnic Institute, in Blacksburg, which will also conduct testing in New Jersey.

The first site will become operational within 180 days and will operate at least through 2017, Huerta said.

In response to concerns that drones put people’s privacy at risk, the FAA will require test-site operators to maintain records of devices flying at the facility, create a written plan for how data collected by airborne vehicles will be used and retained, and conduct a yearly privacy review.

Facilities must also adhere to all privacy laws that may apply to drone use, such as restrictions on law enforcement to obtain search warrants, according to the FAA’s privacy policy.

And we all know how thoroughly the federal government guarantees privacy laws. Right?

FAA starts to clear drones for civilian use


Hand-launching a Puma UAV

Despite being constantly in the news, UAVs haven’t been seen much in the skies of the US except in military training areas or by law enforcement agencies. That’s beginning to change, as the Federal Aviation Administration announced that is has issued operating permits for a pair of civilian unmanned aircraft to a company based in Alaska. The two unmanned aircraft are the AeroVironment Puma, which is a hand-launched, battery powered UAV that uses an electro-optical and infrared video camera for surveillance, and the other is the Boeing Insitu ScanEagle; a small, long-endurance craft based on a fish-spotting design.

Until now, the FAA has had a dim view toward issuing flying permits for civilian UAVs in the US. Except for a few for law enforcement and research purposes, the answer has been a flat “no.” According to the FAA, a ScanEagle and a Puma UAV have received restricted category type certificates that permit aerial surveillance. These permits are an extension of the authority the FAA used for acceptance of the two craft for military service.

One reason for the permits is that both UAVs are relatively small, weighing less than 55 lb (25 kg) with wingspans of 10 feet (3 m) or less. Another is that the craft will be used in the wilderness and coastal regions of Alaska, where they will pose little hazard to populations or other air traffic.

The permit holder is a “major energy company” that in August will fly the ScanEagle off the Alaskan coast in international waters for ice surveys and studying whale migration in Arctic oil exploration areas. Meanwhile, the Puma will support emergency response crews for oil spill monitoring and wildlife surveillance over the Beaufort Sea.

Overdue. As long as FAA safety regs are up-to-date and adequate, drones can serve useful purposes ranging from realtors recording a birdseye view of property for sale to search-and-rescue in rugged terrain.