DURANT, Okla. — The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (CNO) has been granted a Public Aircraft Operations (PAO) Certificate of Authorization (COA) from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). CNO is the first Native American Tribal Government to be granted PAO authorization by the FAA as determined by statutes, 49 USC §40102(a) (41) and §40125 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.
CNO plans to use the PAO COA for aeronautical research and public services as defined in statutes. These plans include aeronautical research on new emerging technology systems that will be operated within the 10.5 counties of the CNO tribal boundaries in Southeast Oklahoma. CNO will also start using their PAO COA 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,” states 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.”
CNO 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. CNO 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.