A Honey Of A Tale About Bees And The FAA

Actress Amanda Barker (right) played an FAA official on “Designated Survivor.” In her scene, she meets with the White House officials played by Kal Penn (left) and Paulo Costanzo to discuss “the bee guy.” (Screenshot: ABC)

Originally published on the FAA’s internal website and at Medium
By K. Daniel Glover

Forget that fantastical story line on ABC’s “Designated Survivor.” Bee buffs and aviation radar experts agree — electromagnetic waves can’t kill entire colonies of honeybees.

Hollywood’s creative minds wrote that theory into the Dec. 6 episode of the conspiratorial, Washington-based drama. The show’s writers debunked the idea by the end of the episode, but considering the lighthearted plot featured an FAA character, FocusFAA decided to make a few calls — to a radar specialist, a bee scientist and two actors in the episode, among others.

They all chuckled at the idea of aircraft surveillance radar disorienting honeybees to the point of starvation. “Unless [the hives] are by some gigantic radar facility sitting across the fence, I wouldn’t worry about it,” said Jerry Bromenshenk, a research scientist who heads the Online Beekeeping Certificate Program at the University of Montana.

The FAA as insect antagonist
For those unfamiliar with the show, “Designated Survivor” is based on the tradition of an official in the line of presidential succession staying at a distant location when the president is at events with other potential successors. As Hollywood’s version of the designated survivor, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Tom Kirkman (played by Kiefer Sutherland) becomes president after a terrorist attack during a presidential speech at the Capitol.

This FAA building is portrayed as the FBI in “Designated Survivor.” (Screenshot: ABC)

The FAA has had regular, albeit disguised, cameos in the show. The building portrayed as FBI headquarters actually is one of the FAA headquarters buildings — a fact that some viewers have noted on the “Designated Survivor” Facebook page. But the FAA was featured more prominently in the episode dubbed “Three-Letter Day.”

It began with President Kirkman telling members of his staff to research three issues raised in letters to the White House. One of the letters involved a beekeeper in Pennsylvania who believed a new air route surveillance radar, or ARSR, was killing his bee colonies.

“The irony is that I do not like bees,” said Phil Abrams, the actor who played the beekeeper and who still remembers his first sting from a wasp. So to identify with the character’s pain in losing the bees, Abrams imagined losing his dog. “It’s finding that personal connection with the event, not necessarily in a literal manner but how it moves you emotionally.”

He also had to buy into the character’s fringe theory. “When you play a character, you’ve got to believe in what you’re playing, even if you’re a little bit nuts,” Abrams said. “… I had a definite reason why I thought my bees were dying off, so I took action” by writing to the White House.

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The Key To UAS Integration

Originally published at Drone Book
By K. Daniel Glover

Collaboration with the drone industry, state and local governments, and the public is the key to successfully integrating drones into the national airspace system, federal officials said this week at the nation’s biggest technology trade show.

“Let’s figure out the right balances,” Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy Finch Fulton said at CES in Las Vegas, where Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration officials discussed the challenges of drone integration.

Fulton and Earl Lawrence, executive director of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office, participated in a discussion about drone innovation. The topics included the new UAS Integration Pilot Program and the work of the Drone Advisory Committee.

Fulton opened the discussion by explaining the Trump administration’s “revolutionary approach” in the pilot program. Initiated late last year, the program facilitates partnerships between “lead applicants” in industry and state, local and tribal governments. The partners will work with the FAA to test ideas for advanced UAS operations that currently are heavily restricted.

The city of Palo Alto, Calif., for instance, recently outlined two proposals involving the Stanford Blood Center and Palo Alto Airport. The blood center wants to work with the UAS provider Matternet to deliver blood samples on a designated flight path to and from Stanford Hospital. And the airport is eyeing a partnership with Multirotor to explore ways to integrate drones and manned aircraft while avoiding airfield conflicts.

Fulton said the pilot program is designed to identify “reasonable time, place and manner restrictions” on drone operations. As an example, he said research through the program could reveal that the best way to integrate drone deliveries is to conduct the operations at night.

“Instead of just imposing rules and figuring out ways to say no,” Fulton said, “we come to the public and try to figure out ways that we can say yes and to enable this innovation.”

Lawrence said the pilot program is essential in a world where aircraft are more personal in nature, sometimes flying from people’s palms, but operate in a complex airspace system that evolved over time. The program will pull together experts who know how to achieve safety in their particular realms of expertise in order to develop a “safety culture” for drones.

“We’re having to relearn how we did that almost a hundred years ago now and fit it into the processes,” Lawrence said.

The Drone Advisory Committee is part of that collaborative effort, too. The DAC membership includes representatives from the drone industry, local government, academia and other aviation interests. “It’s our opportunity to reach out and get a good cross-section of individuals who are affected by this new technology,” Lawrence said.

A drone pilot who was part of the panel discussion praised the FAA for successfully integrating drones into the national airspace during last year’s hurricanes in Florida, Texas and the Caribbean. Taylor Mitcham, the “chief drone ninja” at Florida-based SkyNinja, was among the pilots who received emergency FAA authorizations to fly in disaster-stricken areas.

“The FAA had a great response,” she said. “A lot of times we got instant airspace authorizations in a lot of areas that were very critical, especially with our cell-tower inspections that we were doing out in the Florida Keys.”

Lawrence made clear that the FAA is eager to safely achieve that kind of integration on a broader scale by engaging with industry. “We all want to serve the community. We all see the benefit,” he said. “We’re learning together.”