Oklahoma Ranked #1 regarding State Readiness for Drone Commerce

In a Mercatus Special Study released this week, Oklahoma was ranked #1 in the United States regarding state readiness for drone commerce.  In “Is Your State Ready for Drone Commerce?” Brent Skorup identified the strengths and improvement markers presented by George Mason University and compiled a state-by-state scorecard.

Currently, the best place for drone commerce to grow is Oklahoma, according to Skorup. "They do a lot of things right," Skorup told POLITICO, adding that the state already has a drone program office up and running. That office was established in 2021 by the Oklahoma Legislature and placed within the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission through Senate Bill 659.  Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) has seen an exponential increase in popularity within Oklahoma over the last 10 to 15 years. 

“The innovation of this new flying machine has been transformational for the aviation industry in many regards but has also provided benefits to a multitude of non-aviation industries as well.  Both the government and private sectors have taken advantage of UAS and will continue to do so as the regulatory environment at the state and federal level permits,” said State Director of Aeronautics Grayson Ardies.

Oklahoma legislators have been forward-thinking about all things unmanned before it was trendy for states to create UAS-friendly policies. An interim study was held in the summer of 2020 where experts from across the country testified regarding current best practices in their states and presented ideas for how Oklahoma could ascend as a leader in the unmanned and advanced air mobility industries.

Those expert presenters showed that Oklahoma could use a single-point entity in state government that can be responsible for creating a cohesive coalition of partners that involve the state’s various UAS assets. The state had been missing that energizing force or organization that merged the entirety of resources of the state (research, education, operations, economic development, regulatory, etc.) ensuring the focus as a state on the next big UAS policy initiative, test site opportunity, federal grant funding, or similar program.

“Oklahoma Aeronautics has emerged as the entity to serve as the state’s knowledge resource to assist fellow state agencies, local municipalities, law enforcement and first responders, educators, and others with current policies and regulations, best operational practices, technology capabilities, acquisitions, and similar items,” said Doug Wood, UAS Program Manager for Oklahoma Aeronautics.

In another policy effort to give UAS a lift in the Sooner state, Senate Bill 1688, which became law in 2020, created the Advanced Mobility Program Advisory Council within the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and directed the Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation to appoint a nine-member council to provide recommendations on policy and regulatory issues related to the adoption of advanced mobility technologies. Ardies serves on the Advanced Mobility Program Advisory Council as well as several other industry leaders including James Grimsley, Executive Director of Advanced Technology Initiatives for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

“To date, many states have approached emerging transportation technologies narrowly through an economic development lens. Although economic development and viability are important to the adoption of these technologies, it is important to balance economic development interests with broader societal needs and concerns. The Oklahoma Advanced Mobility Pilot Program recognizes the important role of communities and tribal governments in the adoption of emerging transportation technologies and ensures that a diverse set of stakeholders are involved in the critical review and analysis of policy issues,” said Grimsley.  

Oklahoma leaders consistently give assurances that their efforts are an opportunity to create unity and organization amongst those that are involved in the UAS industry at the state government level. “We want to be the coalescing force to bring all of the state’s UAS assets together as we can do more as a group than we can individually,” said Ardies. “The Mercatus study is great recognition of what UAS entities in the state have been able to accomplish thus far and we are excited to see all of the possibilities that lie ahead for the state with this new technology.”

Find supportive documents and the article by Brent Skorup, “Is Your State Ready for Drone Commerce? The 2022 State-by-State Scorecard,” Mercatus Special Study, Mercatus Center at George Mason University, Arlington, VA, June 2022 at the link below.

 

Mercatus Study