Choctaw Nation to test drone delivery through FAA deal

Drone delivery is coming to the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

The Federal Aviation Administration this week announced a partnership with the Native American indigenous tribe that will study how drones can best transport cargo, including parcels, at lower altitudes.

The Choctaw Nation, which covers nearly 7 million acres and occupies part of southeastern Oklahoma is the third-largest federally recognized tribe in the U.S., and the second-largest reservation in area after the Navajo.

Choctaw Nation FAA drone delivery

The FAA partnership is set to last at least three years under a Memorandum of Understanding, and will enable the FAA’s Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center (MMAC) to work with the Choctaw Nation to study human factors, supply chain management and air traffic control.

Besides actually studying drone delivery, the partnership is expected to promote interest in STEM programs for students seeking careers in drones or the broader aerospace field. Already more than 6,300 employees, contractors and students work at the FAA’s aeronautical center, which is located on the west side of Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City.

”The MMAC plays a critical role in ensuring the safety of aviation operations in our nation, and we are excited to establish formal ties between our organizations to jointly support the development and safe integration of emerging aviation technologies into our national airspace system,” said James L Grimsley, Executive Director of Advanced Technology Initiatives with the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

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A drone flown by Choctaw Nation Video Production Audio Visual Technician Joseph Jefferson fl its over Tvshka Homma during the Trail of Tears. The Video Production Department frequently uses footage gathered by a drone to help tell the stories of the Choctaw Nation. Still shots taken from drone video footage have been used in the “Biskinik” to get unique views of locations and events. Image courtesy of Choctaw Nation.

The Choctaw Nation is also one of eight active pilot sites participating in the FAA’s BEYOND program, which launched in October 2020 as an effort to use private-industry testing and data to help better understand drones.

The BEYOND program expands upon the  Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program, of which the Choctaw Nation also participated. The Choctaw Nation was the first — and really only —tribal government selected by the U. S. Department of Transportation to participate in that program. That proposal focused on agriculture, public safety and infrastructure inspections, as well as planned Extended Visual Line of Sight, or EVLOS, operations over people and nighttime operations. Choctaw Nation worked closely with CNN and Green Valley Farms Living Laboratory in Cleveland County, as well as Flirtey, AiRXOS, a GE venture, uAvionix, AirMap, TDRS, LLC; DII, LLC; Oklahoma State University Unmanned Systems Research Institute and the University of Oklahoma, for that undertaking.

Interestingly, Choctaw Nation was also the first tribal government to be recognized by the FAA as a Public Aircraft Operator. The Choctaw Nation has also been instrumental in studying acoustics testing for drones with the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center.

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