WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives today pledged to continue their support for a newly-designated FAA Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems that will research and develop technologies and policies for the use of unmanned aerial systems, or drones, in the United States.
At a news conference Thursday, lawmakers praised the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) selection of Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE), a consortium of universities headed by Mississippi State University (MSU), to lead the UAS COE. ASSURE is tasked with identifying issues critical to the integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the nation's airspace and engaging in research and policy development on the growing use of unmanned aerial systems.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, MSU President Mark Keenum and consortium members joined U.S. Senators Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and U.S. Representatives Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) and Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) at the event to discuss the next steps and goals for the COE UAS.
"Unmanned aircraft technology is here to stay, and we are all excited that our states will have an active role in figuring out the safest and most efficient way to incorporate this evolving technology into our airspace to assist on issues ranging from precision agriculture to disaster recovery," Senator Cochran said. "We are interested in continuing to support what will be a collaborative process to address the complicated nature of integrating unmanned aircraft into our national airspace system, as well as privacy and other issues that arise with their use."
"We are extremely pleased that UND is a key member of the UAS team selected for the Center of Excellence," Senator Hoeven said. "UND brings not only its resources as a premier school of aviation, but also the northern tier UAS test site and the Grand Sky Technology Park."
"From the Alaska perspective, unmanned aerial systems can be game changers for my state -- to work around our vast distances and lack of infrastructure. Whether in the form of Arctic research, delivering goods in the Bush, fire-fighting or policing in rural areas, UAS deserve serious and thoughtful consideration as we map out an intelligent rule book for their use and applications," Senator Murkowski said.
"Advances in Unmanned Aircraft Systems are making a big impact on the ways we live and work -- revolutionizing how we engage with the world," Senator Wicker said. "These technologies help create tens of thousands of jobs, grow our crops more efficiently, improve our response to humanitarian crises, and protect our troops. This consortium of research universities, led by Mississippi State University, will play a leading role in the future development of this exciting, emerging field."
"This alliance is its own evidence of excellence. In addition to the scientific and intellectual assets of these institutions, North Dakota brings the highest ethical standards born out of the culture of the prairies to be applied to the execution of technology," Congressman Cramer said.
"I commend FAA Administrator Huerta's search selection of the ASSURE consortium, headed by Mississippi State University, to lead the UAS Center of Excellence," Congressman Harper said. "Over the past decade and a half, we have seen UAS technology and capabilities grow exponentially and this selection speaks strongly to the important partnership between the FAA and academia. I applaud Senator Cochran's leadership on this issue. Dr. Keenum, Mississippi State University and ASSURE are uniquely positioned to be an integral part of the growth of UAS research and technological advancements."
The directive to the FAA to establish the national center has been included in congressional appropriations bills since FY2012, with Congress appropriating $5.0 million to support a five-year agreement with the COE UAS. Federal funding will be matched by ASSURE team members.
The FAA expects the COE to begin research in 2015 and be fully operational in 2016 in its exploration of evolving new technological developments regarding unmanned aircraft and their uses, including detect-and-avoid technology, low-altitude operations safety, privacy safeguards and other areas. Research will also involve the deployment of UAS for emergency response, biofuel and clean fuel technologies, law enforcement activities, and agricultural and environmental monitoring.
Moreover, the COE UAS will coordinate research and development activities with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Agriculture and other agencies. Its work will also lead to recommendations on aircraft certification, flight standards and air traffic requirements, and facilitate UAS technology transfer to other civilian and defense agencies.
In addition to Cochran, Hoeven, Murkowski and Wicker, other Senators who have been instrumental in supporting the formation of the COE UAS include Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.).
ASSURE members include Mississippi State University, Drexel University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Kansas State University, Montana State University, New Mexico State University, North Carolina State University, Oregon State University, University of Alabama-Huntsville, University of Alaska-Fairbanks, University of Kansas, University of North Dakota, Wichita State University, Ohio State University, University of California-Davis, Auburn University (associate member), Concordia University (associate member), Indiana State University (associate member), Louisiana Tech University, Tuskegee University (associate member), and University of Southampton (associate member).