Fifty-nine years ago this week, President Dwight D. Eisenhower became the first U.S. President to fly in a helicopter—a modified stock Bell H-13J—when United States Air Force Major Joseph E. Barrett flew the rotorcraft with Eisenhower in it to Camp David on July 15, 1957.
Aviation has come a long way – and not just since 1957. Since President Obama took office in 2009, and especially in the last few years, technologies have emerged that are powering a revolution in unmanned flight. For the first time, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, have become commercially available at scale, and are being used by the government, the research community, and industry to carry out their work more efficiently and safely.
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is excited to announce that we’ll be celebrating the potential of this technology with an event here at the White House on August 2. The Workshop on Drones and the Future of Aviation will bring together government, academic, and industry stakeholders to discuss both the near and long-term implications of unmanned aircraft as an emergent technology; issues related to airspace integration; the potential of unmanned aircraft to enable high-impact research, create new jobs and industries, save lives, and improve the way government agencies and companies do business; and potential ways to further address safety, security, and privacy in this emerging field.
In June, the Administration finalized new ground rules to govern the non-recreational use of unmanned aircraft systems, which opens the National Airspace System to a major new technology. The rule, which will take effect in late August, offers safety regulations for unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds that are conducting non-hobbyist operations. According to some industry estimates, these new regulations could generate more than $82 billion for the U.S. economy and create more than 100,000 new jobs over the next 10 years.
Today, unmanned aircraft are used for a variety of applications in areas like environmental monitoring and scientific research, precision agriculture and crop maintenance, safe infrastructure inspection, firefighting, search and rescue operations, and education, to name just a few. Industry and the research community have been critical in advancing capabilities and identifying solutions to both the technical and policy challenges related to the integration of unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System.
The U.S. Government is also at the forefront of this technology as pioneers of platforms and applications that are helping save taxpayer money, conserve critical resources, and even save lives. Unmanned aircraft systems are transforming the ability of local, state, and Federal agencies to respond to and assist in emergencies and disasters, enhancing the ability to conduct game-changing scientific research, and increasing the Government’s agility in studying, predicting, and reacting to environmental issues.
Unmanned aircraft have already been deployed by international emergency response teams in mudslides, wildfires, hurricanes, structural collapses, nuclear accidents, and tsunamis. In the U.S., government efforts to monitor wildlife and endangered and invasive plant and animal species, protect sensitive ecosystems, inspect and repair infrastructure, map and predict extreme weather events, and manage and monitor the environment have all seen improvement with the use of unmanned aircraft systems.
Technology has come a long way from the Bell H-13J helicopter on the South Lawn of the White House, and we’re excited to continue to work with policymakers, regulators, researchers, and industry to accelerate technological development, improve airspace integration, and enhance privacy and security related to unmanned aircraft technologies. We hope you’ll join the conversation by tuning into https://www.whitehouse.gov/live on August 2.
Ted Wackler is the Deputy Chief of Staff to OSTP.
Terah Lyons is a Policy Advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer in OSTP.