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Embry-Riddle University Student Center Ribbon Cutting Event

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
Embry-Riddle University Student Center Ribbon Cutting Event
Daytona Beach, FL
Thursday, October 25, 2018

Thank you, Dr. Butler [P. Barry Butler - President of Embry Riddle] and Mr. Hosseini, [Mori Hosseini – chairman of the board of trustees] for that introduction.

Before I start, let me commend Governor Rick Scott for doing so much to help Florida recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Michael, and other storms.  The first line of defense, of course, is at the state and local level where officials and first responders know their situations best.  But the Department of Transportation always stands ready to help local communities with the assistance they need to inspect and reopen damaged transportation infrastructure, and to get impacted airports up and running.  I also want to thank the entire aviation community for working together to deal with the disruptions caused by these natural disasters.

Thank you for inviting me to join in this celebration of the opening of Embry-Riddle’s new Student Union.  It is a very impressive and beautiful building.  It houses a multipurpose events center, a restaurant, the school library, bookstore, and even the student radio station.  And there is ample space for students to study.   The Student Union is destined to be the heart of the university community.  The students who will spend time in this building will build friendships and professional relationships that will last a lifetime.  They will go on to work in every facet of aviation – as engineers, technicians, aviators, and managers.  And they are very likely to become inventors – hatching some of their best ideas under the soaring arches of this building.

Recently, the FAA celebrated its 60th birthday and a decade-long commercial aviation safety record that is the envy of the world.  Embry Riddle has played a role in creating that safety record.  Over the past 10 years, 28 tasks and demonstration activities valued at more than $84 million were awarded to Embry-Riddle to assist in national airspace modernization efforts.  And just yesterday, the FAA hosted an industry day here in Daytona Beach to introduce the Four-Dimensional Trajectory (4DT) Live Flight Demonstration Project.  The goal is to improve the quality and amount of data available to those who manage the airspace.

So, since we are talking about innovation, let me share a few thoughts about how the Department is working to promote safety, revitalize our country’s aviation infrastructure, and prepare for the future by engaging with new technology.

As you know so well, this is a transformational time for aviation.  The sector is experiencing strong growth.  By 2036, the number of air passengers worldwide is projected to double to 7.8 billion annually.  There is a visual reminder of this robust demand on the wall of my office: an electronic map tracking every commercial take-off and landing in the U.S.

This rising demand, coupled with our strong economy, is good news for Embry-Riddle graduates.  Thanks in part to Congress’ tax cuts, and the Administration’s efforts to reduce unnecessary red tape, the economy is growing and unemployment is at its lowest level in nearly 50 years.  The need for pilots and other trained aviation personnel is especially strong.  To ensure that this sector has the skilled personnel it needs to compete, I convened the first Aviation Workforce Symposium on September 13.  It brought together leaders from government agencies, the private sector, and academia to come up with strategies for attracting and keeping the well-trained pilots and technicians the aviation sector needs.  Recently, I announced a new, three-year initiative -- Forces to Flyers, which provides military veterans the training they need to become commercial pilots.

Aviation change is also being driven by exciting new technologies on the horizon: supersonic flight, commercial space and unmanned aircraft systems, or drones. 

Drone technology is the most significant development in aviation since the introduction of the jet engine. The rules and regulations governing our national airspace never anticipated drones.  This technology is developing very rapidly. As of October 8, 2018, there were more than 1.2 million registered drones in the U.S. – of which 261,481 were registered for commercial use – and more than 109,000 certified drone pilots.

That’s why – at the direction of the President – the Department launched the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program.  It will test the safe operation of drones in a variety of conditions that are currently restricted: over people, beyond the line of sight, and at night. Approximately 150 communities and their private sector partners applied to participate in the program, and ten projects were selected from communities around the country.  The applications being tested include drone delivery of medical supplies and equipment, improving agriculture, helping first responders with search and rescue, and even delivering packages.  The program will generate valuable data and help the Department understand what happens when drones are added to the current aviation mix.  It will help standardize operations and aid in developing best practices. As part of this overall emphasis on drone operations, we are seeing a number operations being conducted for the first time in the U.S. For example, In August, the FAA approved the first delivery test in Virginia. This month the FAA approved the first beyond visual line of site operations using radar, which will be conducted around the Permian Basin for oil and gas infrastructure inspection.

The Department is also enabling the growth of the commercial space sector.  This sector is doing very well.  Six years ago, the United States was only third, behind both Russia and China.  In 2017, for the first time in 14 years, we regained the lead with a record number of commercial launches.  And we are on track to beat that record in 2018!

The Department of Transportation is updating and streamlining launch and re-entry licensing requirements using a performance-based regulatory approach.  It is also testing the computerized Space Data Integrator, which will let air traffic controllers more effectively manage airspace during launches.  These and other actions will enable commercial launch operations to be conducted more efficiently, making the United States even more attractive in the global marketplace for commercial space launches.

In addition, the Department is closely watching new developments in supersonic technology.  It has the potential to greatly reduce flight times to distant cities, while keeping airport and high-altitude noise within acceptable limits.  The FAA is exploring the noise level requirements for new supersonic aircraft, as well as streamlining the authorization process for conducting supersonic flight tests in the United States.  Let me note, however, that at present, there are no new supersonic aircraft prototypes to actually test.

In addition to preparing for the future, the Department is focused on refurbishing and rebuilding our country’s aviation infrastructure, especially airports.  That’s key to promoting safety and accommodating the growth of the aviation sector. On September 27, 2018, I announced $205 million in supplemental funding for infrastructure grants to small airports in 34 states.  More than half of these airports serve rural communities and general aviation. The supplemental funding was part of $1 billion in supplemental funding provided by Congress this year.  The remainder will be awarded in 2019 and 2020. That funding was in addition to $3.31 billion awarded in regular Airport Improvement Program (AIP) Funding during fiscal year 2018. 

I’m sure you all will agree that this is a great time for American aviation. Deregulation paved the way for more consumer access and choice than ever before. At the same time, we have achieved a safety record that is second to none. And the American genius for innovation continues to refresh the industry and create exciting new possibilities for the future.  The investment in educational infrastructure such as this new Student Union, helps build the human infrastructure necessary to ensure that our country remains a global aviation leader.

Thank you.

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Last updated: Friday, October 26, 2018