Choctaw Nation Obtains Public Aircraft Operations Authorization

The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma is the first Tribal Government to be granted Public Aircraft Operations (PAO) authorization by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) since the new FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 was signed into law. Prior to the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, federal law did not permit Tribes to operate a public aircraft for governmental or public service under the rules of a PAO. 

The Nation plans to use its Certificate of Authorization (COA) for aeronautical research and public services as defined in the FAA Reauthorization Act’s statutes. These plans include aeronautical research on new emerging technology systems that will be operated within the 10.5 counties of the Choctaw Nation’s Tribal boundaries in Southeast Oklahoma. The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma will also start using its PAO certificate for emergency services such as search and rescue, firefighting support, post-damage assessment from natural disasters and other public needs that may arise in the future.

“It is an exciting time in the Choctaw Nation as well as all of Oklahoma to make history by being the first Tribe designated as a public aircraft operator,” said Chief Gary Batton. “This designation confirms our commitment to the future of the unmanned aircraft system which allows us to explore new possibilities and applications in this industry. We believe this designation and commitment will transform the Choctaw Nation and Oklahoma. The future holds endless opportunities.”

“The Choctaw Nation continues to expand our involvement in emerging aviation technology and we appreciate our strong working relationship with the FAA,” states James Grimsley, Executive Director of Advanced Technology Initiatives of Choctaw Nation’s Division of Strategic Development. “As we continue to foster innovation and utilize new technology in today’s world, we hope to better serve our Tribal citizens, customers and employees.”

The Choctaw Nation—the third largest Indian Nation in the United States, with nearly 200,000 Tribal members and more than 10,000 employees— is one of nine Integration Pilot Program (IPP) sites selected by U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao in May 2018 the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) IPP. 

The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma has become a leader in emerging aviation technologies working with other organizations such as Bell Flight, Intel Corp., AiRXOS (part of GE Aviation), Noble Research Institute, Oklahoma State University, Public Service Company of Oklahoma, Iris Automation and the University of Oklahoma.

About the UASIPP Program

The Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Integration Pilot Program (IPP) is an opportunity for state, local, and Tribal governments to partner with private sector entities, such as UAS operators or manufacturers, to accelerate safe UAS integration. The program will help the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) craft new enabling rules that allow more complex low-altitude operations by:

  • Identifying ways to balance local and national interests related to UAS integration
  • Improving communications with local, state and tribal jurisdictions
  • Addressing security and privacy risks
  • Accelerating the approval of operations that currently require special authorizations.

The Program is expected foster a meaningful dialogue on the balance between local and national interests related to UAS integration and provide actionable information to the USDOT on expanded and universal integration of UAS into the National Airspace System.

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