#062 – FAA UAS Integration with Major General Hoot Gibson

In Podcast by Ian Smith

Major General Marke “Hoot” Gibson was Senior Advisor, UAS Integration at the FAA during a critical, two-year period of explosive growth for the drone industry. Very recently, Hoot has moved on from his FAA role and settled into being the first CEO of the NUAIR Alliance, a UAS test site in Syracuse, New York.

During his time at the FAA, Hoot drew from his vast wealth of experience as a decorated A-10 Warthog pilot in the U.S. Air Force to advise the Administration on integration efforts of drones into the National Airspace System (NAS).

Hoot and Ian discuss the FAA’s recent Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) program and how it positively affects not only commercial drone operators, but the way that the FAA fundamentally does business. The two additionally explore plenty of other initialisms; Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM), UAS Integration Pilot Program (UASIPP), Counter UAS (cUAS), Remote Identification, and more.

Ian Smith: [00:00:28] Hey everybody. Ian here with your, “I stayed out a little too late last night in Vegas” edition of Commercial Drones FM being recorded at the Commercial UAV Expo. And I have a very special guest here with us today. Joining us is Hoot Gibson.

Ian Smith: [00:00:43] He’s the Senior Adviser of UAS Integration at the Federal Aviation Administration. Hoot, thank you so much for joining us today.

Hoot Gibson: [00:00:51] Good morning, Ian. Sorry to hear about your pain.

Ian Smith: [00:00:55] No, it’s OK it’s OK. You know I got to push through with the whole podcasting thing and I’ve got a little glass of water here and a coffee so I think I think I’m going to be OK.

Hoot Gibson: [00:01:04] But see when you get to my age you have muscle memory of those days and you don’t even go there.

Ian Smith: [00:01:10] That’s what I was thinking too. You know it’s getting a little ahead. That is owner.

Ian Smith: [00:01:14] Yeah but anyways it’s feeling a lot better now than. You’re so good. So OK Senior Adviser of U.S. Integration at the FAA.

Ian Smith: [00:01:22] That is a very cool title it’s very important to the industry. You’ve been working with the industry for quite some time. But before we really get into the meat and potatoes of that I’ve loved to learn about your background. I mean you came from the Air Force.

Ian Smith: [00:01:35] Can you tell us just what you were doing there and kind of about your career that led you to the well briefly.

Hoot Gibson: [00:01:42] Yeah.

Hoot Gibson: [00:01:44] Thirty three and a half years in the Air Force retired as a two star Major General. What’s relevant to what we’re doing here. I was a pilot and a fighter pilot in fact and later in my career especially I ended up doing a year in Iraq from 2003 to 2004. And we started using a lot of Predator drones over there at that time. So I became really conversant on how they operated what they were capable of. Eventually moved next assignment back to Korea. Did the same thing. No we didn’t have them there. Trying to integrate them into into the war plans and whatnot. So it was kind of smart you got to remember at that time these were still burgeoning as far as capabilities and all that although we were probably 10 to 12 years ahead of everybody else with Bazian and the rest of it. So I went back and I became the Air Force director of current ops and training. And in that role one of the things I had was the portfolio basically of supply and demand not individual assignments for rated people you know pilots navigators and weapon systems folks. But the the red line blue line as we called it. And as you can imagine the UAE vs UAE ass’s arepas we ended up calling them a quarter remotely piloted but that was quickly outstripping our ability to provide pilots to that. We started out with traditional pilots. So at some point it fell to me and I started the whole new career field which which didn’t necessarily endear me to my my former tribe of the traditional fighter guys and others.

Ian Smith: [00:03:22] And what kind of aircraft were you piloting.

Hoot Gibson: [00:03:25] I flew a tens for for quite a long time and then sixteens and then as a commander I ended up working with both I commanded and so that was my background. In fact at one point I remember I was talking a guy showing them I brought the operators back twice a year from all over all over the world the directors of operation and knew most of them. And at one point I was outlining showed them the graph that was going straight up basically as the supply line stayed fairly flat and I said Guys we’ve got a problem here you know and tell me what I miss. And tell me how we’re going to hack this corner.

Hoot Gibson: [00:03:58] And I said I think we’re going to have to have to do things entirely differently. You know and I think it makes sense to do things differently we need they don’t need to be trained the way we train pilots today maybe 70 percent 80 percent common to operate an ass and operate in combat. But I remember there was a guy who had in fact had been my freshmen during hell week at the academy and I pulled him off the line even back then I thought he was going to kill everybody. But his call Sonny flew 15 he retired as a four star. His call sign was Gork. And I remember you guys were smiling kind of winking at me to look down. He was heads down red faced and when I was told him we may have to do a different career field he’s just break and pencils just just snap at him. And finally I look down I go what do you got. Where he goes. Damn it who you’re screwing with the DNA. So I guess the point of all that is I’m I became familiar with the change the cultural change and how fundamental the change was was proposed by unmanned systems. When was this roughly. That was 2007 and 8 when I was at the Pentagon and then subsequent to that as we kind of outlined the way we thought we had to go ahead and how in fact this was not a fad.

Hoot Gibson: [00:05:16] You know at some point the epiphany came that this is the future of aviation. I had guys always look in one or two years solutions and I go guys you know you’re going to have to get your head up horizon what does our Air Force at that time look like in 40 years. Is our unmanned systems a big part of it or not. And they go well yeah I guess when you think about it that way I go that we all need to commit to that future albeit not 100 percent accurate to that. That’s that’s where we’re headed. So we need to back up now and start figuring out how we put things in place to get us there. One of those pieces one of the recognitions was I ended up briefing Secretary of the Air Force. I’d also brief my chief of staff of the Air Force there in the Pentagon and Mike Donnelly who was the secretary and myself sat down with Randy Babbitt at the time who was the administrator of the FAA and Peggy Gilligan who had just taken over its aviation safety just the four of us in a room and we didn’t make a lot of headway with them as we outlined hey you know this this is going to be the next big thing. We have some experience we need to work with. Because even though we’re flying combat art our need to integrate our need to have more space to operate these things and make you familiar with them is is you know the future and that’s where we’ve got to go.

Hoot Gibson: [00:06:32] And so take that now a decade later after several moves my retirement and I end up back on the 10th floor of the FAA building 10 a kind of saying the same thing Hey this is really not a fad. This is where we’re gone. And I credit the deputy administrator Mike Whitaker for knowing who I was and bringing me on board and certainly Mike Huerta who was the administrator he knew what he was getting. But I think they wanted to bring in a bit of a counter voice or another another vision to share to you know enrich the discussions that we had about where we are and where we’re going in it. And as you mentioned with the industry a big part of that became engaging with industry giving them a voice giving them an outlet and did that for the last two years. And as we mentioned before the interview I’m going to be had an up to be the first CEO of NUAIR alliance. Basically the New York test site and some of the things they’ve got going out there it’s very exciting. So I’m going to leave the headquarters leave policy to some extent and just like in my military career and now go back into the field. I can’t wait.

Ian Smith: [00:07:40] Nice. That’s cool. Yeah I got to switch it up a little bit. So that’s awesome about NUAIR. We can touch on that maybe a little bit later on but yeah we’ll talk about a little bit of the kind of I guess hot topics if you will of the current state of the drone industry. So there is a thing called LAANC and it’s spelled L.A. A and C it’s actually not an acronym. Well I guess it is an acronym. It’s because you can pronounce it as LAANC but it’s technically maybe an initialism. Anyway I learned the difference between the two.

Ian Smith: [00:08:12] Regardless of that can you tell us about LAANC? The low altitude authorization notification capability. There we go.

Hoot Gibson: [00:08:20] So LAANC is really kind of I want to say game changing for the commercial drone industry because it allows operators to get pretty much instant approval to get to operate in around airspace of airports. Eventually every airport. I would imagine in the United States and so can you give us a little bit of the background on that like why was LAANC kind of created and like how was it created and maybe like where do you think it’s going and the process to get to get to where we are.

Hoot Gibson: [00:08:54] Well first of all I know a lot of folks know the the role that automation must play as we as we move on with the large numbers of unmanned systems and I think it’s going to be the only realistic way to control such large numbers to manage such large numbers to interact with manned systems so automation is a key. I mean when we started this discussion you know I used to have in my briefing when I started in this position two years ago I used to say we’re not we’re not going from analog to digital which is a phrase that most folks here at DFA were going from paper to digital. Yeah it is a big jump in a lot of people pull muscles trying to get out of the way and make it work. So pretty proud of my effort in a way though because we sat there and talked about the need to do this. First of all the efficiencies of somebody picking up a phone or even sending a text to a tower having run ops for a time near Forte’s you don’t want to be distracting air traffic guys with other things while they’re controlling traffic that needs to be their sole focus. So we needed a way to clean that up a little bit and pull that away. And again when you when you roll in the numbers that we’re talking about and not to frustrate the the operators in the field either they know they’re out there trying to do things commercially or otherwise it shouldn’t be available. Can I fly or I can’t fly.

Hoot Gibson: [00:10:16] And what are their limitations so at one point I made the observation that you know we’re like a bunch of cobbler’s here. You know if we need 5000 more we need 5000 more cobbler’s and I said we have to break that and I said this is more like Nike coming to us and say saying you know I need you to manufacture a million tennis shoes this year. You know that’s the scale that we got to start thinking about as we move ahead. And the only way to get there is AI and automation and using the tools that are available Saga’s again pretty proud of my effort. They finally turn and we did an RFI to industry. You know the good ideas are not going to come out of tenei all the time we’re not you know we’re not going to provide the product. So we have to reinvigorate how we work with industry. They’re always going to give us those tools and have have that capability to bridge f or so we did that they came in a lot of ideas I think were down selected to less than a dozen and they they helped us bridge that you know it looked like this it operate like this is sort of the API here’s where we do. And in relatively short stead less and less than a year basically we now have the beta products going out as announced two days ago yesterday I guess I just got a demo of it and it was like instant.

Ian Smith: [00:11:31] So for context previously you asked operator would have to request authorization from the FAA to get permission to operate within a certain radius of an altitude of controlled airspace around the airport. Right. And so you could be waiting potentially months hence the cobbler kind of analogy there like you know you need a lot of people to approve these manual waivers and this system. It’s just it’s digital and automats all that. Yeah.

Hoot Gibson: [00:11:57] So it’s it’s a system it’s a machine talking a machine it lives out there near real time. And this is just one example I mean abutting this will be UTM which is all you know again a way to rationalize airspace so this is a big push. This is very very fundamental I think and pivotal for the FAA in a way that is I’m super happy to see that.

Hoot Gibson: [00:12:22] I’ve been very impressed with the FAA and the speed. I mean Part 107 was huge. I think LAANC is actually very big too like to me I mean is this as huge. I mean seeing the cooperation between a public and private entities and then making that actually an actual real product that’s going to help people and the industry move forward and do flights. It’s going to be safer. It’s great.

Ian Smith: [00:12:45] So you alluded to UTM also and so LAANC is awesome. But UTM and then remote identification and so those are like kind of it’s all kind of coupled together like this is going to be just a big system eventually.

Ian Smith: [00:13:01] So how does LAANC play into the to the global UTM or you know global local UTM around the United States and UTM for context.

Ian Smith: [00:13:12] Unmanned traffic management. It is not a thing. It’s kind of like an idea and it’s going to be pushed forward.

Ian Smith: [00:13:19] I imagine with a lot of input from the FAA and working closely again with public and private entities and so can you tell us a little bit about remote identification and UTM and your thoughts on that.

Hoot Gibson: [00:13:31] You know I know I’ve been or I remember arguing with Jim Williams and he is certainly one of our revered pioneers DFA worked hard Sloat slaved mightily under folks that weren’t quite as encouraging as they might be now. And so but I remember four or five years ago having these discussions with him about the fundamental need to base identification or awareness or air traffic. And of course now security is a big role of that using an electronic identification identifying so having air ATC be able to identify a must see them address other aircraft and you know the DSP which is really fundamental now transitioning to traditional aviation right space space versus terrestrial based navigation getting a little bit away from radars were the DSB transmission puts everybody on the same link the same picture. Well we need the same thing with unmanned because they’re going to be operating in that same environment. But also now the smalls are going to be in great numbers below that. Helicopters operate down or other in and around airports. So I think this electronic identification they call it remote because there might have been other means to do that. But is fundamental it’s really fundamental as we move ahead because the folks at maybe non aviators that think you’re going to see these sayings just put lights on them.

Hoot Gibson: [00:14:52] No that’s not going to work. So the way that we will be conflict and generate awareness within the you know that aviation airborne aviation community will be electronic. And so this is necessary. The other piece that’s connected to that most folks now we are know that we had the NPRM and it was kind of set back a little bit because of security concerns. Right. And rightfully so I think you know the FBI just came out and said look we don’t I’m not sure we have the authorities Title 18. It still said you can’t shoot down airplanes and can’t collect our spectrum that we needed to and so on so forth. And I’m not sure we have the tools not just at the federal level but certainly down at the local level. You know the sheriffs the Highway Patrol whoever it might be from a public safety standpoint so you’re going to open this door up. I think we need to have a broader discussion on security in its role. We’ve done that. I think we pulled back to the left several sections one on airspace one on a counter piece. This remote I.D.

Hoot Gibson: [00:15:52] was fundamental to again I think to security. And that’s not to say I think everybody’s waiting for the security problem to be solved. I would argue now with you and others that ten years from now we’re still going to have security concern. You know just like cyber the Internet there’s going to be wonderful capabilities but there’s wonderful ways that that can be distorted. Absolutely. So this is with us now as we move forward hopefully in balance. But all that and so back to UTM it has an air traffic control function. To me it’s the way I used to tell Mike Whitaker and others. This is a way to rationalize your space down or we file flight plans and traditional traditional aviation so we kind of know where folks are and you can tell where the conflicts are and all that stuff so you can flow the traffic. We’re going to be able to do that even better up with DSB or precision based navigation. We need the same thing. We can’t we’re not going to have controllers directing us down there in the low altitude structure. But they need to conflict themselves and then eventually we need to pull that into conflicting from low altitude aircraft specifically helicopters.

Ian Smith: [00:17:05]  [00:17:05]And now a quick word from our sponsors. [00:17:08]

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Ian Smith: [00:18:06]  [00:18:06]But don’t forget to win the DJI spark. You can quickly enter commercial drones dot fm slash Sparke. Okay back to the show. [00:18:17]

Ian Smith: [00:18:21] Do you think so. It’s really amazing to hear all this. Like I feel like this industry that we’re in has been really pushing the FAA kind of and putting pressure. You know like LAANC is a great thing.

Ian Smith: [00:18:35] It happened so fast it was release. I mean I’m I’m very kind of shocked frankly. I was very impressed to see the working demo and it was actually like a real registration with LAANC but drones kind of pushing forward. Do you think like this new UTM.

Ian Smith: [00:18:50] I mean is that going to fold over and demand aviation do you think as well and it’s going to mean you know where I’m kind of going with like you know are we as this industry kind of pushing forward so much that it’s going to start affecting how we operate manned aircraft as well and it’s just going to all be in one kind of big system.

Hoot Gibson: [00:19:08] Well not to make a statement about air traffic controllers. In the current system we have today although we are changing to an electronic capability we are looking at Precision based time flow management much more efficient air space right when you can get closer because the DSP provides more accurate information as far as where you are and in what’s role of the controller I mean how hands on do they need to be at that point versus how much does it kind of not mean in the loop but man on the loop. So I use a lot of that as you try to get to that more efficient structure both unmanned and man. I can see the hands on controlling and some of the things we’re doing now will morph a little bit over time.

Ian Smith: [00:19:50] And so just one thing I’m sure that some people are interested.

Ian Smith: [00:19:53] Remote identification do you think that this is going to probably rest on the shoulders maybe of the manufacturers. I mean this is probably going to require some type of hardware in the platform in the aircraft itself that broadcasts the signal whether it’s a DSB or not. I assume so. It’s not like a standard have the NTSB or no.

Hoot Gibson: [00:20:16] And that’s what the remote ID was pursuing. They sat down we did another. The White Paper RFI requests for documents from industry. I think we receive 42 seven passed that day that showed you know a high technical readiness level capability that we could implement. And so they’re going through now and trying to validate not a specific system but some of those parameters that will be acceptable. So we can have that basis out there. You know I don’t see any way around it. The only piece is when you get to air traffic control and also get into security if you don’t have everyone playing. Right. So back to your point about the manufacturers if you don’t have that kind of embedded embedded in I know some folks see that and perhaps as big brother watching but if you don’t have that then you’re only as strong as your weakest link. Truly it’s all about safety. I mean it is all about safety and you know is it a rider is it a privilege to fly in that airspace is like driving a car you have to have a license right. You have to. People get to know who you are. It’s even more I think demanding to do that in an airborne environment.

Ian Smith: [00:21:22] Totally agree. There’s a lot of space up there but that also can look just the amount of freedom can cause you know potential issues and that’s you know the FAA mandate. I mean I think it’s probably like to have the safest airspace in world. OK.

Ian Smith: [00:21:38] So we’ve gone through LAANC we’ve gone through some security issues remote identification UTM. Now we get to kind of like the tail end of the so count for us.

Ian Smith: [00:21:48] Now what’s going on.

Hoot Gibson: [00:21:50] You know there’s a lot of business is kind of popping up you know one is drone and the drone is a very early podcast guest and they have really interesting technology to help you know mitigate. Well they’re kind of detecting and observing us. It’s not exactly counter you ask but from your perspective like what is counter us as a maybe as a drone and user and an operator like what should we know about this and how is it being talked about from the FAA kind of viewpoint.

Hoot Gibson: [00:22:22] Well I think I can speak a little bit on behalf of the FAA but I was involved in the counter as we call it counter from my previous life and DOD that have a very specific meaning. We kind of use it as a term of art right now is an abbreviation but counter implies mitigation. So you have the ability to go defeat something right. Take it down whatever that might be. Right now we’re limited because of Title 18 not being able to do. Not being able to do that but we’re certainly in that business. We can detect if there is a conflict if there’s a system out there. So I think this will also be an interesting year to see if we can get the legislation necessary to modify modified Title 18 to empower folks to perform that security role. I mean the fact is we did. We looked at areas around airports. I was part of a team that for the last 18 months started up in Atlantic City. We worked with some of the key leaders frankly in this area. Kakuei since a fuge and like I said I don’t want to make this a paid political announcement. Griffin censor’s but we work with some of the top industry experts who had already been working this problem for a number of years with the OT forward well.

Hoot Gibson: [00:23:36] So in a sense it wasn’t really tests it was a suitability assessment what does how does this look when you bring it back into CONUS and of course ran into legal concerns. We ran into clutter both physical and electronic and so the systems weren’t quite as capable but that helped to shape the problem. We ended up doing a major evaluations at Denver International and down at Dallas Fort Worth. They were very helpful in letting us come in and operate drones in and around the airport. And so we learned a great deal from that but counter to me is very specific it’s kind of a point defense. I I like the term U.S. security because in there is cyber in there as you know architecture a number of things that you can do at the foundational level to build in security into your you know your future. So that counter has again become kind of an abbreviation for much of those things. I would offer that if you talk to DOD or some other folks that mean has a slightly different meaning.

Ian Smith: [00:24:35] Yeah I can imagine so. So it’s not just about I mean so yeah it’s not Dedrone is not kind of like counter U.S. companies. I just want to make that clear but it’s okay.

Ian Smith: [00:24:46] So this is a topic that’s going to be continuing probably forever.

Hoot Gibson: [00:24:49] Yeah yeah yeah I mean every technology has a dark side right or dark use. And we finally woke and I had a Brian Wynne who heads AUVSI. He and I had long discussions on this but at one point he said well hey even the Internet has an antivirus right. And I go Yeah I mean this is with us now and forever. And I find it interesting we’re here talking about the TFA but deodorized were a concern. Do EE is very concerned a.. But also public utilities power lines refineries all those are critical infrastructure. And I can tell you right now things like major league baseball NASCAR NFL everybody is concerned about their stadiums and keeping people safe. So this cuts across all of America. In fact at one point the discussion was this is a new risk or in my previous life we call it a threat a new national threat. We need a national discussion because it does go from all the way from Disney over to you know nuclear power. And how to how to protect that and how to you know what are we going to be willing to do what are we going to be willing to pay to provide that.

Ian Smith: [00:25:52] Wow so OK so the last thing I do there was that there was a piece of news that was yesterday and it looks like and I’m going to butcher this but basically there was something came out of the White House where there was a I guess I can safely say the Trump administration has signed some type of memorandum or issued something that basically kind of is saying OK local municipalities tribal governments and local governments are going to have or should have should have the authority to regulate or kind of like control their own airspace.

Ian Smith: [00:26:29] So is this like what are we looking at here.

Hoot Gibson: [00:26:33] Maybe I can a little bit.

Hoot Gibson: [00:26:37] Let me give you my nickel on it I think first of all I was involved in this process early on with the White House and eventually because my new position I had to recuse myself from some of the final deliberations. But my my sense of the way things developed and where we’re going with this is actually it’s quite wonderful it’s another in my mind major step for the industry and for the community. So it started out with if you recall we had a technology day at the White House several months back and I participated in a U.S. forum. There’s only about 20 25 of us in the room and there was the concern voiced that you know Pathfinder’s really five five things in two years.

Hoot Gibson: [00:27:15] I mean that’s cute but you know how do we get beyond that. How do we have 25 of these rural innovations centers. How do we go 200. You know we need to be pushing it. And I think part of the context behind that was the companies that were saying they had to go to Australia. They had to go you know England they had to go somewhere else. And that that obviously wasn’t appreciated kind of commensurate with that word discussions. I know we were having DFA for over a year about you know what is the federal role in this new type of aviation right. It’s very personal level. Most of our other problems gravitated to large airports over time. This is now down at you know every backyard is an airport. So so we had been having that discussion for some time as the election came along and people began to swap out with the new administration it kind of went in on hold that we were talking about. What about the area below 200 feet. Should that be granted. If not for control but certainly for management Mike or had a good quote one time he said you know we need to think maybe less of air traffic control and more about air traffic management backed or earlier about ADS-B rest of it so apply that. So I think what this ended up becoming was the beyond visual eyesight the technical piece right to technology and aerospace discussions that we’ve been doing Pathfinder’s and then touching that joining that to a community discussion a governance piece. What are they allowed to do. How should they do it. How do they enforce it. And so this pilot now will join those two together and frankly give you a petri dish where you can begin to experiment to see what works and doesn’t work. That’s the pilot program.

Ian Smith: [00:28:49] Well I appreciate that perspective on this because I know a lot of folks in the industry and I’m going to get some feedback on this of course like I’m a little bit torn personally myself like you know people are saying oh there’s going to be this patchwork of framework of regulations and I’m not going to be able to operate over here and over there and when I go from city to city I mean it’s going to affect some people negatively.

Ian Smith: [00:29:10] But also there is a positive aspect of this which is potentially those municipalities could actually have looser opportunities and you could start seeing companies and individuals and researchers around you know doing a lot more beyond visual line of sight operations maybe taking the human out of the loop.

Ian Smith: [00:29:28] And so that’s what I’m kind of looking at.

Ian Smith: [00:29:30] As you know that is just not necessarily the silver lining here because I don’t think this is all bad but there’s mixed feelings on this and thoughts and we’ll have to wait to see how it how it kind of shakes out. So, Hoot, it has been an absolute pleasure.

Hoot Gibson: [00:29:45] And a Hoot, so to speak?.

Ian Smith: [00:29:49] Hoot, it’s it’s been an absolute hoot to have you on the show and thank you so much for your perspectives on this. All the best. You know at the new mission at NUAIR. I’ve been keeping a very close eye on that kind of project there and did have some folks that are up out of Syracuse, New York on a previous podcast episode. It was the Genius NY. I don’t know if episode number 50 something but anyways I’ll be keeping a close eye on that. So best of luck there. Thank you so much again for joining us. If you’re interested in Hoot he’ll be up at NUAIR in Syracuse, New York and you can reach out to them and connect there and we’re going to cut off the mics now. I’m probably maybe going to take a nap? Any last words of wisdom that you want to leave us with, Hoot?

Hoot Gibson: [00:30:36] No I can’t help you with the hangover really, you just kind of gut it out but thanks Ian for the opportunity to come on your show today.

Ian Smith: [00:30:43] Absolutely. Thanks, Hoot. All right everyone, cheers.

: [00:30:53]  [00:30:53]Father. [00:30:53]