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Remarks Prepared for Delivery by

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao

TRB Annual Meeting
Monday, January 14, 2019

Thank you, Neil [TRB Executive Director Neil Pedersen], for that warm welcome.

I’m pleased to be here today, to update you on the Department’s innovation

agenda, and share some exciting news about drones, autonomous vehicles and
commercial space.

There is no doubt that this is one of the most exciting eras in transportation history.
New technologies are being developed that have the potential to save lives,
revolutionize travel and commerce, and provide new mobility options for
underserved communities.
Some of these technologies are still in the early phases of development. Fully
autonomous or self-driving vehicles, for example, exist primarily in limited and
controlled circumstances. They are not yet available in the marketplace. Drones,
however, are well on their way to mainstream deployment. They are widely used
by hobbyists, by first responders, in rescue and recovery efforts, and to inspect
infrastructure. In fact, as of December 14, 2018 there were nearly 1.3 million
registered drones in this country, and more than 116,000 registered drone
operators. And commercial space, which was once the realm of science fiction, is
now a reality. Just five years ago, the U.S. lagged behind Russia, Europe and
China in commercial space launches. Beginning in 2017, however, the United
States became Number One in commercial space launches, and maintained that
lead in 2018.
In this Administration, the Department’s approach to new transportation
technologies is performance-based, rather than highly prescriptive. We are not in
the business of picking technology winners and losers. Our philosophy is to
encourage the widest possible development of safe new transportation
technologies, so consumers and communities can choose the mix of options that
suits them best.

To implement this philosophy, today I’d like to share with you a sneak preview of
three new Department initiatives to encourage the safe testing and deployment of
drones. This will help communities reap the considerable economic benefits of
this growing industry, and help our country remain a global technology leader.
First, at long last, the Department is ready to issue for comment a proposed new
rule that would allow drones to fly overnight and over people without waivers, if
certain conditions are met.
As you know current FAA regulations do not permit small drones to fly at night
without a waiver. The proposed rule allows drones to fly at night without a waiver,
if the operator has received appropriate training, completed approved testing, and if
the drone is equipped with anti-collision lighting.
In addition, current FAA regulations prohibit drone flights over people. The
proposed rule would allow drones to make routine flights over people without a
waiver or an exemption under certain conditions. These conditions depend upon
the level of risk to people on the ground, and are spelled out clearly in the
This proposal will be published in the Federal Register as soon as possible. Your
feedback is welcome—the comment period will remain open for 60 days after
publication. In the meantime, you can find the text at
Let me note that the Department is keenly aware that there are legitimate public
concerns about drones, concerning safety, security and privacy. Recent events
overseas have underscored concerns about the potential for drones to disrupt
aviation and the national airspace. So along with this new proposed rule, the
Department is finishing up two other proposals to address drone safety and
national security.
The second proposal is the UAS Safe and Secure ANPRM. This new proposal
identifies major drone safety and security issues that may pose a threat to other
aircraft, to people on the ground or to national security. It solicits for consideration
recommendations to reduce these risks as drones are integrated into our national
airspace. Again, it will be published in the Federal Register as soon as possible.
Comments and recommendations are most welcome, and the proposal will remain
open for comment for 60 days after publication in the Register. In the meantime,
the text of the proposal can be found at

Today’s third announcement is the selection of commercial service entities that
will develop technology to manage the airspace for the drone pilot projects
announced in 2018. As you may recall, I selected 10 pilot projects from around the
country to test the safe operation of drones in a variety of conditions currently
prohibited by law. Today I am announcing three contracts have been awarded to
commercial service entities to develop technology to provide flight planning,
communications, separation and weather services for these drones, which will
operate under 400 feet. This unmanned aircraft traffic management system will be
separate from, but complementary to, the traditional FAA air traffic management
system. It will create a shared information network, and gather data that can be
used for future rulemakings. You can also find out more at
Together, these three initiatives will be a major step forward in enabling the safe
development, testing and deployment of drones in our country.
As we prepare for these exciting new developments in aviation, the Department is
updating its approach to two other key technologies: autonomous vehicles and
commercial space.
The Department’s approach to regulating autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles
stresses collaboration and cooperation. In fact, the Department’s two guiding
documents—Automated Driving Systems 2.0 and the updated Automated Vehicles
3.0—were developed through stakeholder engagement. I’m pleased to note that 9
manufacturers have released their Voluntary Safety Self-Assessments, which are
linked to the Department’s website for the public to read. I applaud this
transparency and encourage others to do the same.
The potential of this technology to increase safety is especially noteworthy,
because more than 37,000 lives were lost on our roads and highways in 2017
alone. Yet the promise of automated vehicles will never be realized if the public
does not have confidence in the safety, security and privacy of their technology.
So manufacturers and Silicon Valley must step up, and help educate consumers
about these new technologies. The public may not understand that automated
vehicles have to meet the same safety requirements as vehicles driven by a person.
In fact, there already is a Federal safety framework for automated vehicles. Unlike
aircraft, automobile manufacturers do not have to get pre-approval from the
government for every new part, as long as they meet current safety requirements.
So spending on innovation is strong—in the billions. With these rapid
developments, however, it is even more important that automated vehicle
manufacturers put safety first and embrace transparency, which will build
consumer trust.
Finally, let me touch on another exciting area of innovation: commercial space.
Here again, an update of the Department’s regulatory approach was long overdue.
As directed by the Vice President’s Space Council, the Department is on track to
publish a complete overhaul of its regulations regarding commercial space
launches by February of this year. Again, this rulemaking replaces prescriptive
requirements with performance-based criteria. Among other things, it will:
 consolidate and revise all launch and reentry licensing activity into a single
 streamline the process, while protecting public safety and national security;
 enable flexible timeframes, redefine when launch begins, and allow the
space industry to seek a license to launch from multiple sites.
The goal is to simplify licensing of launch and reentry activity, enable novel
operations, and increase savings to make our country’s commercial space industry
even more competitive.
As these proposals demonstrate, we are facing a new world in which
technology is not easily siloed. Autonomous technology, for example, has
applications across many modes of transportation. So the Department is
preparing for the future by adjusting the way we work to reflect this new
reality. We’ll have an exciting announcement about this soon—so stay tuned!
In everything we do, however, safety will always remain Number One.
Let me close by noting that innovation is a powerful driver that creates new
industries, new jobs and changes society in ways its creators never imagined. I
look forward to continuing to work with you, and all stakeholders, to advance
safety, mobility, economic growth and to ensure that our country remains a global
leader in transportation innovation.