Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
UAS Integration Pilot Program Selection Announcement
Wednesday, May 9, 2018
Thanks for being here. This is an exciting day for aviation, for safety and for innovation!
I am pleased to be here today as we unveil the 10 projects selected for the Department’s UAS Integration Pilot Program. Let me begin by welcoming our very special guests: Senator Pat Roberts; Senator Dean Heller; Senator John Hoeven; Senator Jerry Moran; Senator Heidi Heitkamp; and as well as Representatives Steve Cohen, Kevin Yoder, Kevin Cramer, Barbara Comstock, and Ron Estes, and. Thanks for joining us today! Let me also give a warm welcome to the sponsors of the projects that were selected—we will be hearing from some of them in person, as well as by live stream link.
As you know, our country is on the verge of the most significant new development in aviation since the beginning of the jet age—the emergence of unmanned aircraft systems, or drones. The rules and regulations governing our national airspace never anticipated drones. This technology is developing so rapidly, however, that our country has reached a tipping point. As of May 4, 2018 there were 1.1 million registered drones in the U.S., and more than 90,000 registered drone operators. There must be a path forward for the safe integration of drones if our country is to remain a global aviation leader and reap the safety and economic benefits drones have to offer.
That’s why on October 25, 2017, the President directed the Department to launch a new pilot program—the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program. It will test the safe operation of drones in a variety of conditions currently prohibited. These include operations over people, beyond line of sight, and at night. Instead of a dictate from Washington, this program takes another approach. It allows interested communities to test drones in ways they are comfortable with. This will help demonstrate how drones can safely perform a wide range of activities, at different times of the day, and across a variety of locations and geographies.
When the Department put out a request for applications for this program, the response from communities around the country was overwhelming. Approximately 150 communities and their private sector partners applied. We went looking for good ideas, and we found great ones. The projects announced today will help open the door for drone applications in agriculture, commerce, health care, emergency response, disaster assistance, and even human transportation.
This program also reflects my three priorities, which are safety, infrastructure and preparing for the future by engaging with new technologies to ensure safety without hampering innovation. In addition, it supports this Administration’s overall objectives of strengthening the economy and creating new jobs.
This afternoon, we’ve invited each of the selectees to speak briefly, and give us a sense of what they have in mind for their projects. Some of them are here in Washington, and some will be joining us by video link. So it’s now my pleasure to kick off today’s celebration by announcing the first five project sponsors selected:
- The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma;
- The Lee County Mosquito Control District, in Florida;
- The University of Alaska-Fairbanks;
- The City of San Diego, California; and,
- The North Carolina Department of Transportation.
The UAS Integration Pilot Program was designed to be a catalyst for the type of innovation and ingenuity you have just heard. The preparations for this day involved input from several other Federal departments, including Homeland Security, Justice, Defense and others. We have been working with them to address concerns about the safety, security and privacy of drones. The Department takes these concerns very seriously. As with all modes of transportation, safety will always be number one.
Data gathered from these pilot projects will form the basis of a new regulatory framework to safely integrate drones into our national airspace. But we want to hear from as many voices as possible. That’s why the Department has sent two new proposed rulemakings on drones to OMB. They will ask for public comment on proposals for expanded operation of small drones, and how to best approach security concerns. And there will be more.
The Department will follow up today’s announcements with conferences, meetings and outreach to make sure everyone is aware of the opportunities that are available. Let me emphasize that there are no losers in today’s announcement. Many of the applications not selected for the pilot program are still excellent proposals in their own right. A lot of them can proceed under the FAA’s current rules, in some cases with waivers granted by the FAA where appropriate. I have asked the FAA to reach out to many of these other applicants in the coming weeks, to discuss how they may be able to move forward with their proposals. That has the potential to enable dozens of additional projects from the applications submitted.
Today is a big day. Once again, let me thank our special guests from Congress, from the State Houses, from the regional transportation authorities, and everyone else who joined us today. And many thanks to Acting FAA Administrator Dan Elwell, Undersecretary Derek Kan, and General Counsel Steve Bradbury for going on the road to help us kick off this exciting event.
I think we can all agree that drones are part of our aviation future. Today’s announcement is an important step in preparing for that future. These pilot projects will help develop the know-how to safely integrate drones into our national airspace. That’s key to ensuring that the development of this new technology remains in the United States. And it’s vital to ensuring that our country reaps the important benefits of this new technology. That includes saving lives, creating new jobs and strengthening our country’s competitiveness.
Thank you for being here today to share this exciting news.