Speech – FAA Deputy Administrator Daniel Elwell at InterDrone 2019

Deputy Administrator Daniel Elwell
Las Vegas, Nevada

As Prepared

Thank you, Mike (Pehel), for that kind introduction, and thank you InterDrone for inviting me to speak here again this year.

As you know, on August 12th Steve Dickson was sworn in as the 18th FAA Administrator, so Im back to the Number 2 position on the team. Thats ok though. Like the old tag line for Avis rental cars, being Number 2 just means I try harder.

The truth is, I very much look forward to working with Administrator Dickson. Even though we spent large parts of our earlier careers as pilots for competing airlines Steve at Delta, me at Americanwe have a lot in common. We both started out as Air Force pilots, in fact we both went to the Air Force Academy, and at the FAA we both have a laser focus on operationalizing the FAAs agendaand that includes your agenda.

Because of this, some higher-ups have referred to us as the Dynamic Duo. But please, dont call me Robin. And definitely dont call Steve Batman…

But what you can call us are UAS integration advocates, and Im here to tell you why.

You know its usually true that when summer heats up, life slows down. But in your line of business, this summer has been anything but sluggish. This summer has been all about action, the kind of action that suits the operators that come to InterDroneconstruction, cinema, photography, inspection, agriculture, public safety, energy, surveying and mappingthe list goes on and on because youre finding new ways to use drones every day.

Were making big progress on real-world testing for how to safely and securely integrate drones into the National Airspace System, or NAS, and developing or delivering new rules to codify what were learning so that drones can become regular participants in NAS operations rather than special or waivered one-offs.

At the same time, were heavily invested in educating todays drone community, especially hobbyists, on what they can and cant do. As you know, an uninformed recreational flier in the wrong place at the wrong time could ruin everyones dayrecreational and commercialby threatening manned aircraft or innocent bystanders. Since mid-April, the FAA has held seven drone webinars, three public safety seminars and two Facebook Live question and answer sessions that reached nearly 70,000 people, generating about 4,000 questions or comments. Thats a success story for outreach, but stay tunedwhile 70,000 may seem like a lot, were just scratching the surface since weve already registered more than 1.4 million drones.

So lets talk about some success stories for keeping the ball moving forward on integration.

Last month, we saw significant approvals and actions in North Dakota, Kansas and North Carolina, all part of the UAS Integration Pilot Program, or IPP, which Secretary Chao launched two years ago. Through the IPP, nine state, local and tribal governments across the U.S. are partnering with industrythe companies in this roomto develop UAS regulations, policy and guidance through practical applications. Perhaps more importantly theyve become the match that is lighting a creative fire in the industry and in the public for what this novel new form of transportation might achieve.

North Dakota had two major IPP success stories in August. For one, Xcel Energy can now remotely inspect a portion of the power lines outside an operators visual range along a stretch of urban roads in Grand Forks. They can do this in both daytime and nighttime conditions under a one-year waiver the FAA issued to the North Plains UAS Test Site. As you might expect, there are caveats. While the operator is in a remote location, there is a person launching the drone at the remote site, and command and communication links limit the Beyond Visual Line of Sight, or BVLOS, distance to a few miles at the moment.

While Xcel has been using drones for several years in remote areas to inspect electric and natural gas infrastructure, this is the first time theyve been approved for BVLOS flights within a city. I dont have to tell this crowd the significance of the waiverits the first time weve approved BVLOS operations without visual observers in an urban environment in a Part 107 waiver.

Xcel isnt spending its money and time on a whim. The company says inspecting distribution lines with drones allows crews to get better details on our energy systems without having to put workers in the air with a more expensive helicopter or bucket truck. Drones also minimize the impact on neighborhoods and the environment by avoiding the use of large trucks typically needed for these inspections.

In Bismarck, North Dakota, we just issued a Part 107 waiver for the Highway Patrol and the Burleigh (Burlee) County Sheriffs Office to operate drones over people, another advancement in operational capabilities.

As you can imagine, each waiver is unique, and each rests on the foundation of a successful safety case that the applicant made to the FAA. Included in a safety case are the location of the requested operations, the altitude, the reliability of the equipment, and in the case of operations over people, what injuries might be caused to a bystander if the drone falls out of the sky. Approvals may also be contingent on mitigations to reduce consequences of a failure.

The safety case for a Part 107 BVLOS waiver we just approved for the Kansas Department of Transportation has several layers. The flights will inspect power lines along a nine-mile route in rural Kansas over the next few months. The approval is based on a number of safety nets: The drones will operate next to manmade structurespower lines in this casewhere they are much less likely to be sharing the airspace with manned aircraft and they will use an onboard detect-and-avoid system. The operators in the ground control system will also have access to additional traffic data.

Now lets talk about a waiver we issued in mid-August involving drones flying over moving vehicles in North Carolina. Drone maker Flytrex, working with drone services company, Causey Aviation Unmanned Inc, will use the approval to fly food from a distribution center, across a highway, to customers at a sports and recreation park. This is part of an IPP with the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

Their safety case for flying over the vehicles included the demonstrated reliability of the selected drone, and as a potential mitigation for failures, Flytrexs self-triggered parachute recovery system. Flytrex developed the parachute system using standards set by the FAA and American Society for Testing and Materials, better known as ASTM.

Those examples make clear how much practical progress were making with the IPP. When matched with the companion program, the Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management, or UTM, Pilot Program, or altogether, UPPand thank goodness for acronyms, right?! we are making concrete progress toward full UAS integration. We launched the UPP program three years ago to help us figure out how to do drone air traffic management.

NASA and the FAA have been working on UTM since 2015. Its essentially a set of concepts and tools that we are developing with industry to safely manage dense low-altitude drone operations. UTM is not a specific equipment system; it will be complementary to the existing air traffic management system and will not replace it. Were working closely with NASA who has done some of the heavy lifting with its UTM technical capability level, or TCL, demonstrations.

But were also running our own UPP tests and have made significant progress this summer.

In June, the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership demonstrated separate BVLOS drone flights delivering packages, studying wildlife, surveying corn fields and covering a court case for TV near the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Virginia. All of the operators submitted their flight plans through a service supplier and received approval, and none were flying in airspace where regular FAA separation services are provided.

The true value of a UTM system became obvious when a simulated emergency helicopter needed to transport a crash victim to the hospital in the area where the drones were operating. The helicopter pilot submitted a request for what we call a UAS Volume Reservation or UVRthats an alert that the UTM system delivers to nearby drone operators. In this case, the deliveries were rerouted; the wildlife study, field survey and court coverage continued, but safely away from the helicopters path.

We ran similar tests in Grand Forks, North Dakota, in July, and here in Las Vegas, in early August. In both cases, either Medivac helicopters or first responders submitted UVRs that allowed multiple drone operators doing other business in the vicinity to safely accommodate the high-priority flight.

A key element of these UTM tests is having some form of remote identificationthe ability for those managing or monitoring the traffic to be able to contact the drone or its control station, or both, when necessary. We plan to publish a draft rule later this year on how we can do that.

Other regulatory advances were making include a new proposed rule we published in February that would allow Part 107 operations over people and at night. We received more than 900 comments that were now evaluating.

Thats a lot of work enabled under Part 107. But as you know, there is also a great deal of activity outside of Part 107. In fact seven of our nine IPP lead participants or their partners are applying for Part 135 certificates to be able to deliver goods. One of those participants, Wing Aviation, already received its approval in April. The Part 135 certificate requires much higher safety hurdles, including type certification for the drone and an economic authority approval by the Department of Transportation.

The future payoff for the additional safety measures and certification requirements will be in more liberalized operation. Wing, for example, will initially operate only in certain rural areas around Blacksburg, Virginia. Down the road, its likely that companies like Wing will take the lessons learned from these flights and apply them to more complex operating scenarios.

Helping with all of this is Secretary Chaos support for IPP and UPP, and a regulatory push from Congress. A whopping 130 pages of our 2018 Reauthorization covered drone-related provisions, including instructions to streamline the Part 107 waiver application process and to consider industry recommendations in other areas, a task we just assigned to the Drone Advisory Committee.

I think even the most skeptical among us would have to agree that the FAA and industry have made a lot of progress of late. Even so, were still in the crawl phase of our Crawl, Walk, Run strategy for full integration.

So what do we consider walking? More urban operations, day and night, more BVLOS flights of longer distances and multiple UAS per flight path and per operator.

Running? Im not even sure weve flushed that out yet. Earlier this summer, I would have said it was Urban Air Mobilityflying taxisthe Jetsons. Given how fast everything moves in this industry, its just possible that UAM has already been upstaged. I guess Ill find out when I walk the halls here…

In any case, walking and running are probably not that far off, especially given the hot pace weve all set this summer.

Thank you for your time. I know you guys are going to have a great conference.

News and Updates – FAA, UAS Partners Complete Successful Demos

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), NASA and their partners in a pilot program that is laying the groundwork for an Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) traffic management system successfully demonstrated how such a system can work in the future.

The demonstrations, conducted at three separate test sites selected by the FAA for the UAS Traffic Management Pilot Program (UPP), showed that multiple, Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drone operations can be safely conducted at low altitudes (below 400 feet) in airspace where FAA air traffic services are not provided.

As demand for low altitude drone use increases, the FAA, NASA and the UPP partners are working together to accommodate these operations safely and efficiently.

In January, the FAA selected three UPP test sites: the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (VT MAAP), the Northern Plains UAS Test Site (NPUASTS) in Grand Forks, N.D., and the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS) in Las Vegas, Nev.

  • The first demonstration, which involved the VT MAAP, took place at Virginia Tech on June 13.

    During the demonstration, separate drone flights delivered packages, studied wildlife, surveyed a corn field and covered a court case for TV. Because the flights were near an airport, all four flight plans were submitted through a service supplier and received approval to launch as planned.

    While these flights were being conducted, an emergency helicopter needed to quickly transport a car crash victim to a hospital. The helicopter pilot submitted a request for a UAS Volume Reservation (UVR)an alert used to notify nearby drone operators of the emergency.

    The deliveries were re-routed until the UVR was completed. The wildlife study, field survey and court coverage continued safely away from the helicopters path.

    Each operation was conducted without conflict.

  • The second demonstration, which involved the Northern Plains UAS Test Site (NPUASTS), took place in Grand Forks on July 10.

    During the demonstration, which occurred near an airport, a photographer and Part 107 drone operator took photos of firefighter training. An aviation student at the University of North Dakota used a drone to scan for the best tailgating location. Another Part 107 operator, employed at the electric company, used a drone to assess power line damage after recent strong winds.

    The two Part 107 operators submitted flight plans due to their proximity to an airport, receiving proper approvals. During their flights, they received a UVR alert that a medevac helicopter was transporting a patient to the hospital from the firefighter training area. The operator taking photos of the training landed the drone before the UVR notice became active. The power line survey and the flight over the tailgate area continued at a safe distance.

  • The third, which involved the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS), took place in Las Vegas on August 1.

    During the demonstration, separate UAS flights were conducted to survey a golf course before a tournament, get video footage of a property being sold, and scan a nearby lake for boating opportunities.

    All three operators accessed UAS Facility Maps and worked with a UAS Service Supplier (USS) to receive the proper approvals to conduct their flights.

    A fire erupted at one of the golf course clubhouses. First responders sent a helicopter to contain the fire. They submitted a request to a USS to create a UVR. The UVR information is also shared with the FAA. The FAA shares the information with public portals, notifying each of the UAS operators that the firefighting helicopter was on its way to their flying area.

    Each of the UAS operators, being properly notified, were able to either land or continue their operations at a safe distance.

The UPP was established in April 2017 as an important component for identifying the initial set of industry and FAA capabilities required to support UAS Traffic Management operations. The analysis of results from the demonstrations will provide an understanding of the level of investment required for each stakeholder’s implementation.

The results from the UPP will provide a proof of concept for UAS Traffic Management capabilities currently in research and development, and will provide the basis for initial deployment of UTM capabilities.

Ultimately, the FAA will define the UTM regulatory framework that third-party providers will operate within.

Check out our video about the UPP demonstrations.

News and Updates – FAA Update on Hurricane Dorian

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is monitoring Hurricane Dorian closely and preparing FAA facilities and equipment along the southeast coast of Florida to withstand potential damage so flights can quickly resume after the storm passes. Restoring air carrier service is critical to support disaster relief efforts.


Airlines make decisions about their flight schedules. Flights can stop long before winds reach hurricane strength. Travelers should check with their airlines before heading to the airport for a flight to or from the southeast coast of Florida. The FAA does not direct or advise airlines about cancelling flights.

Airports in the area of potential impact make decisions about closing their facilities. In many cases, airports remain open and do not officially close even when flights have stopped. The FAA does not direct or advise airports to open or close.

The FAA maintains air traffic control radar coverage and provides service to flights for as long as possible. FAA control towers in hurricane-prone areas are designed and built to sustain hurricane force winds. Each control tower has a maximum wind sustainability, which can range from 55 to 75 miles per hour. When winds approach those speeds, controllers evacuate the tower cabs. At busy airports controllers remain in the building at a secure lower level, and are ready to go back to work as soon as the storm passes.

Ahead of the storm, FAA technicians protect communications equipment and navigational aids to the greatest extent possible to enable flights to resume quickly after the storm passes. FAA technicians test engine generators and ensure they are fully fueled so they can power equipment and facilities if commercial power fails. We switch to engine generator power before the storm in anticipation of commercial power failures.

After the storm, we assess damage to FAA facilities and navigational aids. We set priorities to quickly re-establish critical equipment. The FAA has equipment, supplies and people ready to move into the affected areas as soon as the storm passes to restore air traffic control facilities that may be damaged by Hurricane Dorian. Teams of technicians and engineers from other locations travel to the affected areas to assess damage and begin restoring equipment and facilities working closely with the local technical teams.

General Aviation Pilots

Standard checklists are even more important in and around severe weather. Be aware of weather conditions throughout the entire route of your planned flight. A pilots failure to recognize deteriorating weather conditions continues to cause or contribute to accidents. Be sure to check NOTAMs, Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs), and Aircraft Safety Alerts before you go.

Check out the FAAs Hurricane Preparedness Guidance.

Drone Users

Drone users should check NOTAMs and TFRs and avoid flying in areas where drones are prohibited.

Drone pilots must comply with FAA rules and should:

  1. Avoid flying in the area unless conducting an active disaster response or recovery mission.
  2. Be aware that the FAA might issue a TFR in the affected area. Be sure to check for active TFRs if you plan to fly.
  3. Remember that you cannot fly inside a TFR without FAA approval.

Drone emergency operations and response:

  • During a natural disaster, do not fly your drone in or around emergency response efforts, unless you have special authorization to do so. There are low flying aircraft as part of the storm response mostly in low visibility areas. If you are flying, emergency response operations cannot.
  • You may be able to get expedited approval to operate in the TFR through the FAAs Special Governmental Interest(SGI) process as outlined inFAA Order JO 7200.23A. Submit an Emergency Operation Request Form with your existing Remote Pilot Certificate or existing Certification of Authorization (COA) and send to the FAA’s System Operations Support Center (SOSC) at 9-ator-hq-sosc@faa.gov.

Dont Be That Guy!

Be aware that significant penalties that may exceed $20,000 if drone operators interfere with emergency response operations. Flying a drone without authorization in or near the disaster area may violate federal, state, or local laws and ordinances, even if aTFR is not in place. Allow first responders to save lives and property without interference.

If you are not certified as a remote pilot or do not already hold a COA, you cannot fly.

Follow the FAA on social media for the latest aviation news!

News and Updates – FAA Eases Restrictions on Drone Operations Over Some Federal Facilities

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced today that it is working with other federal agencies to minimize the impact of flight restrictions on drone operators flying near select federal facilities.

The FAA is working with the U.S. Department of Defense to establish intermittent restrictions on drone flights within the lateral boundaries of select federal facilities during specified times. Currently, drone operators are prohibited from flying at these locations at all times. The FAA is working to ensure that these restrictions are narrowly tailored and remain in effect only when necessary.

Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) will be issued in advance, indicating the sites where these intermittent restrictions will apply. Drone operators will be able to easily identify the status of the airspace at these locations using the FAAs Unmanned Aircraft System UAS Data Display Systems (UDDS) interactive map which will show the following:

  • The airspace shapes will appear gray when the 99.7 (special security instructions) airspace is inactive and no restrictions are placed on drone operators.
  • Approximately 24 hours before restrictions are activated, the designated airspace will change to yellow as a warning that restrictions will soon become active.
  • At the end of the 24-hour warning window, the designated airspace will change to red while the drone restrictions are in effect.
  • The specific activation times can also be viewed by clicking on the individual airspace shapes in UDDS. Operators are urged to check the UDDS website frequently before and during UAS flights, especially when operating near or within the defined airspace to which recurring transient special security instructions are applied.

These changes, which have been highlighted by FAA NOTAM FDC 9/7752, will become effective on Sept.1, 2019. This NOTAM replaces FAA NOTAM FDC 8/3277. Note that there are few exceptions that permit UAS operations within these restrictions, and those must be coordinated with the individual facility and/or the FAA.

Operators who violate the flight restrictions may be subject to enforcement action, including potential civil penalties, criminal charges, or the loss of their UAS from counter-UAS activities.

The FAA is continuing to consider additional requests by eligible federal security agencies for UAS-specific flight restrictions using the agencys existing authority under Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) 99.7 as they are received. Additional changes to these restrictions will be announced by the FAA as appropriate.

Information on the NOTAM, which defines these restrictions, and all of the currently covered locations, is available. To ensure the public is aware of these restricted locations, the UDDS also provides an interactive map, downloadable geospatial data, and other important details. A link to these restrictions is included in the FAAs B4UFLY mobile app.

Broader information regarding flying drones in the National Airspace System, including frequently asked questions, is available on the FAA’s UAS website.

News and Updates – Drones and Weapons, A Dangerous Mix

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is warning the general public that it is illegal to operate a drone with a dangerous weapon attached.

Perhaps youve seen online photos and videos of drones with attached guns, bombs, fireworks, flamethrowers, and other dangerous items. Do not consider attaching any items such as these to a drone because operating a drone with such an item may result in significant harm to a person and to your bank account.

Operating a drone that has a dangerous weapon attached to it is a violation of Section 363 of the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act enacted Oct. 5, 2018. Operators are subject to civil penalties up to $25,000 for each violation, unless the operator has received specific authorization from the Administrator of the FAA to conduct the operation. Dangerous Weapon means any item that is used for, or is readily capable of, causing death or serious bodily injury.

Operators should keep in mind that federal regulations and statutes that generally govern drone operations still apply. Some state and federal criminal laws regarding weapons and hazardous materials may also apply to drone operators or manufacturers involved in certain operations.