Mississippi to Lead National Unmanned Aerial Systems Center of Excellence

Cochran, Wicker Praise Mississippi State University Selection by FAA, Culmination of Years of Effort

May 8, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) today announced that Mississippi State University has won a hard-fought competition to host the nation’s premier civilian academic center focused on research and policies related to unmanned aerial systems.

Cochran was informed of the selection by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on Friday. The decision culminates a more than four years of bipartisan legislative work led by Cochran, and supported by U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and U.S. Representative Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), to have the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) establish a National Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems.

“Mississippi State University and our state have a wonderful opportunity to use their research expertise and unique facilities to advance and influence all aspects of the unmanned aerial sector, from national policies to deployment to manufacturing. Unmanned systems are here to stay and this national center will help ensure that they are used to improve American security and productivity, while protecting privacy,” said Cochran, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “I commend Mississippi State for its diligence and expertise as a major research institute in putting together a team that can accomplish these goals.”

“Mississippi is on the cutting edge of unmanned aircraft technologies,” Wicker said. “We are home to some of the world’s leading aerospace companies and research universities. In the field of unmanned aircraft systems, Mississippi State University is second to none. Today’s announcement ensures that our state will continue to be a critical hub for advancing aerial technologies, which can help improve our ability to grow crops more efficiently, respond to humanitarian crises, and better protect our troops.”

“I am pleased that the Federal Aviation Administration has selected Mississippi State University to operate a new National Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. While Unmanned Aircraft Systems technology is no longer in its infancy, we are still just scratching the surface on what can be accomplished with these capabilities. This is a tremendous opportunity for Mississippi State and simply a preview of what Mississippi has to offer,” Harper said. “I applaud the incredible work by Mississippi State and Senators Cochran and Wicker on making this a reality.”

The directive to the FAA to establish the national center has been included in appropriations bills since FY2012, with Congress providing appropriations of $1.0 million in FY2014 and $5.0 million in FY2015 for the effort.

With its selection, the MSU Alliance for System Safety of UAS Through Research Excellence (ASSURE), a consortium of universities across the country, will work to identify issues critical to the safe integration of UAS into the nation’s airspace and engage in research and policy development on the expanding use of unmanned aircraft.

As directed by Congress, the FAA selected a host for a center that will also conduct research related to the deployment of UAS for emergency response, maritime contingencies, biofuel and clean fuel technologies, law enforcement, and agricultural and environmental monitoring. Among other responsibilities, the center will coordinate research and development activities with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Agriculture and other agencies. Its work should also lead to recommendations on aircraft certification, flight standards and air traffic requirements, and facilitate UAS technology transfer to other civilian and defense agencies.

In Mississippi, MSU expects to conduct research that will involve its Raspet Flight Research Lab, the Stennis Space Center and agriculture sites in the Delta.

ASSURE members include Mississippi State University, Drexel University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Kansas State University, Montana State University, New Mexico State University, North Carolina State University, Oregon State University, University of Alabama-Huntsville, University of Alaska-Fairbanks, University of Kansas, University of North Dakota, Wichita State University, Auburn University (associate member), Concordia (associate member), Indiana State University (associate member), Louisiana Tech University, Tuskegee University (associate member), and University of Southampton (associate member).