Choctaw Nation Transportation Technology Expert Testifies Before Congress on Drone Safety in the National Airspace

The Executive Director of Choctaw Nation’s Advanced Technology Initiatives, James L. Grimsley, testified yesterday before the U.S. House of Representatives regarding the historic work underway within the Choctaw Nation’s drone program. The program utilizes drones in agriculture and public safety applications, among other applications, to reduce the risk of injury to workers, improve productivity, and assist first responders. Based on his experience, Mr. Grimsley also shared his recommendations for a path forward to advancing drone safety in the national airspace.

“We are proud to have an active role in the safe integration of drones into the national airspace system to support important applications for rural and tribal communities, where we believe that drone technology can improve our quality of life, health and safety,” said Mr. Grimsley.

Grimsley addressed the Subcommittee on Aviation of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. In his written testimony, Mr. Grimsley stated that although progress has been made in understanding how the aviation safety regulatory system needs to evolve to integrate drones into the national airspace, the U.S. regulatory system is lagging behind the pace of technological advances and that modernizing the regulatory framework is crucial to realizing the potential benefits of emerging drone technology.

To move forward, Mr. Grimsley offered two recommendations:

  1. Standardize the BEYOND Program and Provide Funding to Members. Standardize the FAA BEYOND program, which is focused on advancing drone operations beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) and cargo delivery by drone. Participants in the BEYOND program make important contributions to the critical national policy challenge of drones in the national airspace, and it is important that these entities are eligible for federal funding to support and continue their work. Choctaw was invited to collaborate with the FAA through the BEYOND initiative in 2020.
  2. Enable Site-Specific Regular Operations. Mandate that the FAA accelerate opportunities for communities and sites that can demonstrate the ability to safely scale regular operations, such as drone delivery. Some sites, such as the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, have already made significant investments in ground-based radar and other safety infrastructure and mitigations to support safe drone operations today. By allowing these sites to move forward and scale their low-risk low altitude drone operations, it provides an opportunity for the industry to innovate and demonstrate economic viability.

“The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma has made significant investments based on our own bold and ambitious vision and plans. We believe the future is bright, and that our quality of life can be enhanced by responsibly harnessing emerging aviation technologies,” said Mr. Grimsley. “But we need the federal government’s full support to ensure that these technologies flourish and provide the benefits to society that we strongly believe are possible.”

Mr. Grimsley’s complete testimony is available here.

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