Jay Merkle and James Grimsley Photo by Christian Toews

Jay Merkle, Executive Director of the Federal Aviation Administration's Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Office, discusses aviation technology with James Grimsley.

Emerging Aviation Technology Conference

By Christian Toews
May 1, 2022

The Choctaw Nation hosted its third Emerging Aviation Technology Conference on Tuesday, April 5, 2022. According to James Grimsley, the conference served to provide an overview of what the Choctaw Nation is doing in the field of emerging aviation technology, offer a networking opportunity with essential industry stakeholders and continue to seek public comment and input on emerging aviation technology initiatives, including advanced drone operations. “Drones and things like AAM have potential,” Grimsley said. “We can pull some of the activities on the roadways off and begin to do it a little more efficiently and more kind of innovative ways.”

The Choctaw Nation is working with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and other industry leaders to create the regulations that will be required for this unmanned aerial infrastructure. “Being a tribe and actually helping craft the rules is very historic,” Grimley said. “We are actually impacting and helping create the regulations, the new rules that will help us safely do this.”

Photos by Christian Toews

Many companies like Spright, based in Denver, Colorado, focus on using drones for deliveries. “We are a big aviation company, so drones is kind of the next phase of what we are doing,” said Spright executive Justin Steinke in an interview with KTEN News. “We currently do medical helicopters all over the U.S., so we will continue really all over the world.”

Grimsley commented that many significant milestones have been achieved over the past three years.
“Our last emerging aviation technology conference was in 2019, prior to the global pandemic,” he said. “The Choctaw Nation has built an international ‘brand’ and reputation in the emerging aviation technology industries and that reputation is helping to build new industry and academic relationships with the Choctaw Nation. This is bolstering our STEM education and other activities and opening up new opportunities for our Reservation communities.”