Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to help facilitate greater drone use to combat the impacts of COVID-19 through the contact-free delivery of medical supplies and other vital equipment to those in need.
“In Nevada alone, drone companies have already successfully transported consumer products, worked directly with first responders, and delivered critical packages like automated external defibrillator (AED) devices,” wrote the Senators. “In light of the ongoing battle against COVID-19, we call on the U.S. Department of Transportation to enable an expedited pathway for commercial and public entities to stand up beyond visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) drone package delivery operations for medical, healthcare, and other critical public needs.”
As part of her Innovation State Initiative, Senator Cortez Masto has made expanding the economic and safety benefits of the drone industry a priority – from applications to help reduce threatening situations for our law enforcement and first responders, such as wildfires, to helping deliver needed medical supplies. During the course of the 2018 FAA Reauthorization process, the senator also extended Nevada’s FAA designated drone test site, and included and tracked the implementation of various drone safety measures to ensure the safe and efficient adoption of this technology into our national airspace. Recently, the FAA announced the roll out of the UAS training program that was passed as part of the Senator Cortez Masto’s Safe DRONE Act.
Senator Rosen is a currently member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee’s Subcommittee on Aviation & Space, which has jurisdiction over FAA. Earlier this year, she joined Senator Cortez Masto in letter to NASA in support of the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems’ (NIAS) application for NASA’s Urban Air Mobility (UAM) “Grand Challenge”. The “Grand Challenge” is a NASA effort to work with industry to achieve safe, commercial urban air mobility (such as drone-delivered cargo) in metropolitan areas and promote public confidence in new technologies by partnering on executing practice scenarios in real-world environments.
The full text of the letter can be found here and below.
Dear Secretary Chao and Administrator Dickson,
We hope this letter finds you in good health. We are writing regarding an urgent matter related to the public health emergency.
As a result of the need for social distancing and self-quarantining to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic, many of our constituents cannot access health care essentials, such as medicines, medical devices, and personal protective equipment. We hope you agree that first responders, public health agencies, and retailers need to have the ability to utilize emerging technology solutions that can deliver these necessities in a timely and safe manner, such as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), more commonly known as drones.
Madam Secretary, in public remarks you made in the fall of 2017 when you announced the Drone Integration Pilot Program (IPP), you acutely underscored the importance of drone technology in disaster response, stating “So, the possibilities for drone use are as endless as the human imagination. And a safe, robust drone industry could have a significant economic impact on our country, generating billions of dollars for our economy and creating tens of thousands of new jobs…Our job is to prepare the way for this new technology, so it can be safely deployed and usher in a new era of aviation service, accessibility, and capability.” We agree there are tremendous opportunities today for this technology to help our society during this time of crisis and to serve as an economic driver for America as we recover from the pandemic. In rural America alone, this technology can help shrink distances, provide lifesaving solutions, and create good paying jobs in a field with limitless potential.
For years, beyond visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) drone deliveries under Part 107 and Part 135 have been occurring with the approval of federal test-sites and pilot programs, as well as with the help of regulatory waivers. While these UAS operations typically have various limitations and restrictions, they have proven to provide deliveries safely and without increasing risk to other users of the National Airspace System.
We have already seen the virtues of drone applications in protecting our environment, aiding law enforcement and first responders in life threatening situations, and supporting smart transportation solutions like traffic management. With the data available from the IPP and through public-private coordination with the FAA, it is time to expand the safe integration of drone technology into more of our daily lives. In Nevada alone, drone companies have already successfully transported consumer products, worked directly with first responders, and delivered critical packages like automated external defibrillator (AED) devices.
In light of the ongoing battle against COVID-19, we call on the U.S. Department of Transportation to enable an expedited pathway for commercial and public entities to stand up BVLOS drone package delivery operations for medical, healthcare, and other critical public needs. There is a strong case for temporarily waiving these regulatory limitations on UAS operations that will expand our communities’ access to vital resources, provided that delivery by UAS can be done in a safe and efficient manner. That possibility will help guide us to further provide a future pathway to making these opportunities more permanent.
Furthermore, if there are resources or other legislative actions that are required to support these new UAS applications, please share those needs with Congress expeditiously.
As we look to strengthen our ability to respond to the continued challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as future emergencies, we know that drones can be a vital tool in our toolbox that can be leveraged to meet the needs of our society. With your leadership, the U.S. can emerge from COVID-19 relief efforts with a deeper understanding of how to harness UAS by providing real-time assistance to the people in our states hardest hit by its effects.
Thank you for your attention to this timely matter. We look forward to your response as soon as possible in order to help assist as you tackle the Nation’s greatest public health challenge in modern history.