Note: We invite drone advocacy groups and drone companies to share your response to the confirmation of DOT Sec. Pete Buttigieg.
The U.S. Senate today confirmed the Biden Administration’s nomination of former presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg as Secretary of Transportation. Although the confirmation took place just a few minutes ago (as of this posting), drone industry advocates have already expressed optimism about the direction of the DOT (and FAA) under Buttigieg’s stewardship.
During the hearings, commercial drone policy only received a few mentions—however, Buttigieg’s past attitude seems to have been drone-positive. As the Mayor of South Bend, Buttigieg lauded wireless technology advancements as applied to drone tech in 2017 after Notre Dame and the city received millions in research grants from the National Science Foundation.
“What we’re at the cusp of here is the next chapter in wireless and we believe we can position South Bend as a testbed for piloting some of the most compelling wireless technology that’s going to be brought forward,” Buttigieg said during a drone demonstration. “For example, just a few days ago South Bend was the first place ever where control of a Wi-Fi based drone was passed from one base station to another.”
The AUVSI celebrated Buttigieg’s conformation with a congratulatory press release:
“We are encouraged to see a similar mentality in our newest Transportation Secretary, as Buttigieg has been known to embody those values throughout his time as Mayor of South Bend, Indiana,” the statement noted.
“In fact, the City is a member of AUVSI and joined our ranks under Mayor Pete’s leadership in 2018. That is not surprising to anyone who knows the 39-year-old former Navy intelligence officer – he has been on the record touting the benefits of autonomous systems in a variety of contexts.”
“The passion for innovation Secretary Buttigieg is expected to bring to the DOT is very exciting for the unmanned systems industry, and AUVSI looks forward to partnering with the Secretary and his staff on autonomous technology policy. Tools such as drones, autonomous vehicles, and unmanned maritime vessels are continually demonstrating their use, especially as we work through a global pandemic. The industry will continue to advance technology adoption and public acceptance of unmanned systems, and AUVSI looks to the U.S. DOT to partner in those efforts.”
In a January column for DroneLife, Lisa Ellman, Chair of the Global Unmanned Aircraft Systems Group for Hogan Lovells, and Executive Director of the Commercial Drone Alliance called on Buttigieg to bolster drone-friendly policies.
“To unleash the power of [drone] technologies for Americans’ health, prosperity and quality of life, the Biden-Harris Administration, under the leadership of Pete Buttigieg as Secretary of Transportation, should move quickly to make rules that enable and support innovative aviation technologies,”
If Buttigieg continues the drone policies of his predecessor, Elaine Chao, UAS industry advocates may find an ally in the Biden Administration. Before she resigned in protest of the Trump Administration’s handling of the January Capitol insurrection, Chao established a mostly friendly relationship with the industry.
During her tenure, Chao helped established several FAA programs aimed at creating a national drone traffic management system and supported the launch of the Remote ID initiative.
In 2019, Chao flew a drone during a conference at Hazard Community and Technical College in Kentucky. “New uses are constantly being found for drones, including surveying crops, inspecting damaged homes and infrastructure, and delivering packages and medical supplies,” she said later during a speech.
Buttigieg will face a maelstrom of conflict, however, as Biden inherits a whirlwind of recently implemented, drone-related regulations. Just days before President Trump’s final days in office, the Administration issued the Executive Order on Protecting The United States From Certain Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), expanding American restrictions on Chinese drones. Earlier, the General Services Administration restricted drone procurement to five drone models approved under the special Department of Defense (DoD) program.