Speech – “Drones: Here for Good”

Stephen M. Dickson, Remote Symposium
July 8, 2020

UAS Symposium Episode 1

Remarks as Delivered

Thank you Erik for that introduction, and thank you to everyone at the FAA and AUVSI who played a part in pulling together this exciting and innovative conference. It’s great to be here—even virtually—for this, our fifth annual UAS Symposium.

As Jay Merkle said earlier, in the “old days,” it was often the case that much of the real progress in aviation took place in impromptu gatherings on the sidelines of conferences and meetings.

When we entered the virtual conference world, I worried that those connections—particularly those with our international friends and partners—would be lost. After all, regularly scheduled events were no longer regular, and sideline meetings weren’t possible.

So you can imagine how excited I was to learn that bright minds at the FAA and AUVSI innovated yet again to find a way to create those opportunities in our new virtual reality. They’ve given us the ability to have virtual sideline gatherings as part of the UAS Symposium Episode 1—our virtual conference today and tomorrow. How cool is that?

I’m optimistic, and I imagine we’ll learn from this and advance the conversation even further in Episode 2, on August 18 and 19.

That’s technology and innovation having a positive impact on society, and when you think about it, isn’t that the ultimate measure of a sea change in the long run—whether or not it ends up being beneficial for people and changes how we engage with each other and the world?

That was certainly the case for manned aviation, particularly when we entered the jet age and made just about any location on the planet accessible in about a day.

Space travel, in particular the Apollo program, gave the human race much more than Tang. For one thing, it started the hardware miniaturization and software revolution that ultimately led to our pocket-size devices and, apropos of today, drones.

And I think we’re all seeing—especially in the middle of a global public health emergency—that drones are helping people in very real ways every day.

That’s in part why the theme of this year’s symposium, “Drones—Here for Good”—is definitely on point in today’s environment. We actually selected that title back in 2019, but it is more appropriate today than we ever would have imagined.

The expansion of drones is not just happening in the U.S.—it’s a worldwide phenomenon. Consider that, with us today, are international guests from as far away as Australia, Canada, Japan, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

It’s great to see so many international attendees, and I thank you for participating. I also want to thank Jay for his superb outreach efforts, including the regional updates he’s held with civil aviation authorities around the globe.

We realize that no one here can work in a vacuum when it comes to how we set the parameters that will enable this global industry to prosper yet remain safe for the public.

We have to develop our infrastructure in harmony so that operations can move seamlessly across borders.

And that’s why Episode 1 of this symposium is dedicated in part to highlighting our work with international partners.

I’d like to offer a special welcome to my friends and colleagues from the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation—Christian Hegner and Lorenzo Murzilli—who will give a keynote address next, including a special announcement. So stay tuned for that. 

As an aside, we can thank Switzerland for playing a big role in giving us the incredibly stable, versatile, small quadcopter platforms that have become synonymous with the UAS movement. 

Swiss researchers in 2004 at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne did groundbreaking work in autonomous flight using an in-house quadcopter named OS4 (Oh-S-4). Others around the world were making similar progress.

Fast-forward 16 years, and the market is swimming with small, low-cost, quadcopters that can automatically follow along and keep watch over you while you walk your dog—in appropriate airspace, in daytime and not directly over people, of course. 

Along with international integration, the other two focus areas for Episode 1 are STEM and UAS traffic management, or UTM.

When it comes to STEM, we have a unique opportunity right now, because young people are seeing in the news how drones are helping people.

Imagine the lasting impact of a drone coming to a young person’s house, a kid who’s probably very bored from being cooped up during a time of stay-at-home orders, and the drone drops off a book for summer reading…

That’s what’s been happening in Christiansburg, Virginia, where a local librarian came up with the idea and brought it to Wing Aviation, who made it happen.

In 2019, Wing was the first drone operator in the U.S. to earn a Part 135 air carrier certificate from the FAA. 

Students order the books through their school’s website, where they can choose from more than 150,000 titles, and the drones deliver the books to their house. 

That progress is the direct result of the Administration’s drone Integration Pilot Program, or IPP, which we’ll discuss in great detail during Episode two of this symposium, in August.

For now I’ll just say that the IPP is responsible for many drone “firsts” that have helped the public, including Wing’s book deliveries and the first routine medical package deliveries in the U.S. by another Part 135 carrier, UPS Flight Forward.

In May, UPS Flight Forward began delivering items from a CVS to a nearby senior living community in Orlando, Florida, so that residents with a high risk of contracting COVID-19 did not have to go out.  

The reality that drones are helping, even saving lives, is a powerful tool for capturing the imagination of our youth and pointing them toward STEM. It’s going to be our job—everyone’s here—to ignite their imaginations and help them see the rewards of becoming the next generation of aerospace professionals.

In addition to boosting the social benefits that drones can provide, and getting out the STEM message, we at the FAA are also keeping our eye on the long-term goal of integrating, not segregating, this new entrant into our National Airspace System.

We continue to work with NASA and many of our partners here on UTM concepts, which rely, in part, on a new rulemaking for remote identification.

Remote ID means the drone would provide identification and location information that can be received by UAS service providers and the FAA. We received 53,000 comments on the proposed rule by the time the public comment period closed in March, and we plan to issue a final rule in December this year.

In case you’re wondering, that’s a lot of comments—people are passionate about this topic, and we’re listening.

Meanwhile, the Remote ID Cohort that we formed with industry is developing technology requirements for the UAS service suppliers that will manage the data exchange between a drone and the FAA.

Stick around today and tomorrow, and you’ll hear about all of these topics and more, including our vision on Advanced Air Mobility.

We’ve got the experts here—from the FAA, other government agencies, and industry. In particular, please note that FAA Air Traffic Organization COO, Teri Bristol, will provide an airspace integration update at 2 pm today, and tomorrow morning at 10 am, FAA Associate Administrator for Safety, Ali Bahrami, will offer more insight on UTM, Advanced Air Mobility, IPP and other topics.

Other senior FAA officials are also on the agenda, including a closing keynote tomorrow by Kirk Shaffer, FAA Associate Administrator for Airports.

I’ll close by saying it’s very uncharacteristic for me to get this far into my remarks with so few mentions of the word….safety. Obviously, I’ve saved the most important for last…

If you’ve heard me speak, you know that I always have a few bedrock things to say about safety—one, that it’s job number one for the FAA, and two, that safety is a journey, not a destination. You never stop watching, evaluating and correcting your operation to improve safety.

We at the FAA are here to help the drone community prosper. Consider that we enabled drone use for COVID-19 within our existing regulations and emergency procedures, as well as through special approvals—some in less than an hour. But safety is always our highest priority.

To be successful, safety has to be your highest priority as well. You’ve heard it before, and I’ll say it again, one clueless, careless or reckless flyer, in the wrong place at the wrong time, could ruin everyone’s day, both recreational and commercial, by threatening others in the airspace or on the ground.

If we all do our part, we’ll ensure that drones will be… Here for Good.

So thanks for listening and for spending your time with us today and tomorrow, and hopefully for two days next month.

Have a great symposium.