US Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao today hosted the official launch of the UAS Integration Pilot Program that was introduced last week. A panel of regulators and industry stakeholders joined Republican lawmakers in voicing support of the program.
FAA Deputy Administrator Dan Elwell opened the program, saying that “the safe integration of drones is a national imperative.”
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta then took the stage commenting that managing the safe integration of drones was a “major undertaking,” and one that the FAA could not undertake on its own. Huerta reviewed a list of recent achievements in drone regulation, saying that collaboration was key to the success of the project.
While there are many challenges with drone integration, Huerta says that key among them is the issue of roles. “We need clarity on the involvement of tribal, state and local governments and the roles that they should play,” says Huerta, adding that the Pilot Program “will provide that clarity.”
New Mexico’s Governor Susana Martinez thanked the current administration for offering states a role in regulation while giving a strong plug for her state to the drone industry. “Aviation, and the innovation that goes with it is absolutely essential to growing and diversifying our private sector economy…,” she said. “Unmanned aircraft offer almost limitless potential….but it has to be done safely and it has to be done right.”
“…Its so important to have the federal government viewing this process as a partnership…. These partnerships will help us to innovate across the board,” said Martinez.
Other lawmakers echoed her sentiments that a collaborative approach with lawmakers was a welcome invitation. North Dakota Senator John Hoven thanked Huerta for his leadership in moving integration forward, saying that North Dakota has been working on drone integration for 12 years with “our great friends at the FAA…we love these guys,” said Hoven, telling the drone industry: “We want to work with you.”
“This is how it should work,” said Congressman Jeff Denham, citing the advantages that drone technology have for his home state of California.
Brian Wynne, CEO of AUVSI and an involved member of the Drone Advisory Committee spoke on behalf of the drone industry. “For years we have talked about the potential value of this technology, ” said Wynne, pointing out that the recent work of drones in emergency response efforts in Houston and Florida were “a turning point” for drones. “Now we can talk about the value in real time,” said Wynne.
“This pilot program comes at exactly the right time,” he said. “We now have the outlines of a path forward.”
Dave Herlong, Director of Smart Grid and Innovation at Florida Power & Light presented the company’s use case of drones – and told the audience that the technology were now an integral part of company strategy.”Be very clear… this is part of the future.”
The program was closed with an address by Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao. “This is truly an important milestone,” said Chao. “This program could not have come in a more timely fashion…the possibilities for drone use are as endless as the human imagination.”
“Creativity and innovation are part of the great genius of America—one of its hallmarks. We must safeguard and nurture this legacy,” said Secretary Chao. “The integration of drones into our national airspace will be the biggest technical challenge to aviation since the beginning of the Jet Age. This program will help prepare the way for this new technology, and usher in a new era of aviation service, accessibility, and capability.”