Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao For Montreal Council on Foreign Relations

September 25, 2019

Thank you, Consul General [Robert] Thomas for the kind introduction.  Let me also thank Mr. Pierre Lemonde and the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations for hosting this luncheon.  And a very special thanks to Minister [Marc] Garneau for his country’s warm hospitality this week!

I have just come from speaking to the 40th ICAO Assembly, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.  Global aviation is safer, more efficient, more affordable, and more available than ever before thanks to the work of the United States Federal Aviation Administration and international aviation community partners.  Canada has played an especially important role in aviation innovation and safety, which was reinforced by my visit to Nav Canada in 2017.   Canada was the launching point for the first direct transatlantic flight, implemented the first civil aviation safety management system, and serves as the host for ICAO.  And it continues to innovate today with a ground-breaking model for air traffic control management.

Canada is also the United States’ second largest trade partner and our largest export market. In recognition of this vital relationship, the President has negotiated an updated U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.   And trade between our two countries will also benefit from the new Gordie Howe International Bridge, financed by a public-private partnership supported by the Canadian government.  The bridge will create a safer, modern, more efficient crossing point for commercial traffic at a key location on the United States and Canadian border.

Economic growth is the underpinning of this strong trade relationship.  The U.S. economy grew by 2.8% in the first half of 2019, and the unemployment rate is still a remarkable 3.7 percent—the lowest in 50 years.  And for the first time in many years, personal income is growing– rising 3.2 percent during the past 12 months. Nominal average hourly wage gains had not reached 3 percent in over 10 years.  So there is much good news to celebrate.

Let me also mention that I’ve just returned from celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, another great example of the close cooperation between our two countries.  And I would remiss if I did not mention another great example of the strong U.S.-Canada relationship: Kelly Craft, a fellow Kentuckian and the former U.S. Ambassador to Canada, was just nominated, confirmed and sworn in as our country’s Ambassador to the United Nations.

So examples of the longtime friendship and close cooperation between our two countries are everywhere!

In that spirit, let me share this Administration’s approach to some of the common transportation challenges our countries face today.

First, safety is the number one priority of the U.S. Department of Transportation. When it comes to road and auto safety, there is good news: highway fatalities in the United States have been trending downward for the last three years. Still, nearly 37,000 people tragically lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes in 2018.  Experience has shown us, however, that without education, enforcement and due diligence this trend can easily go in the wrong direction.  So more work needs to be done to ensure that highway fatalities continue to trend downwards, particularly in the area of driving under the influence.

Traditionally, our two countries’ approach to road and automobile safety have been aligned.  Let me note an emerging challenge, however.   As safety advocates know so well, alcohol and drugs play a disproportionate role in auto fatalities.  Canada has legalized the recreational use of marijuana, while the United States has not.  It is still illegal under U.S. federal law, although 9 states have decriminalized it.  While there is still much research to be done, data from states that have legalized is already pointing to the dangers of driving under the influence of both illicit and legal drugs.  In fact, this year—for the first time ever—the U.S. Department of Transportation launched a nationwide campaign to raise public awareness about the dangers of using drugs while driving.  So this is an area that merits increased cooperation, as well as a search for solutions.

In aviation, the FAA has long been regarded as the gold standard in aviation safety worldwide. But the tragic loss of two Boeing 737 MAX aircraft overseas is a reminder that while progress has been made, safety can never be taken for granted. Safety requires constant vigilance from all parties and unflagging dedication. No matter the tremendous gains in aviation safety, there is always room for improvement.

The FAA is following a very deliberate, thorough process to evaluate the safety of the Boeing 737 Max.  There is no prescribed timeline.  The aircraft’s grounding order will be lifted ONLY when it is deemed safe to do so.

The second priority of the U.S. Department of Transportation is addressing the infrastructure needs of our country. This past year alone, the Department distributed more than $65 billion– primarily through grants to state and local governments—to help build new infrastructure. This included $478 million in airport infrastructure grants to upgrade 232 airports in 43 states.   And on Monday of this week, I was pleased to announce nearly $1 billion in new Airport Improvement Grants—a significant investment in aviation infrastructure.

The Department’s third priority is to prepare for the future by engaging with new technology to address legitimate public concerns about safety, security and privacy without hampering innovation.  This Administration’s approach to innovation is tech neutral – not top-down, command and control. That means we are not in the business of picking technology winners and losers. Instead, the Department’s approach is to enable the safe testing and deployment of a wide variety of new technologies, so communities and individuals can choose what best addresses their needs.

Innovation has a role to play in safety, as well.  94 percent of all vehicle crashes involve human error.  So autonomous vehicles have the potential to increase safety, as well as offering the precious gift of mobility to the elderly and people with disabilities. The Department’s approach to regulating autonomous vehicles stresses transparency, collaboration and cooperation with all stakeholders, including the public as well as state and local governments.   So the Department published new guidance for Autonomous Vehicles systems in 2017, and an update in 2018.  And just this past week, I announced $60 million in grants to test the safe integration of automated vehicles into our country’s transportation systems.  That’s important, because recent Triple A surveys show that 3 out of 4 Americans are afraid of autonomous vehicles.  So I have challenged Silicon Valley to step up, and address these public concerns by explaining this technology and its benefits.

Another exciting area of innovation is unmanned aircraft systems – or drones.  Once the realm of science fiction, today they are being widely deployed.   In fact, there are more than 1.5 million registered drones in the United States, and 150,000 registered drone pilots—triple the number in 2017.  Drones are commonly used to help first responders in emergency situations, to inspect infrastructure, and deliver medical supplies and many other uses. And new services are being pioneered with the help of the Department’s drone integration pilot program.  I announced the first round of selected projects on May 9, 2018.   The Department’s robust UAS agenda also includes important new rulemakings to:

  • permit drones to fly at night and over people under certain conditions;
  • identify the safety and security threats posed by drones, as well as how to mitigate them; and,
  • implement solutions to enable remote identification.

I know that Transport Canada has implemented its own new rules for drones at the beginning of this year.  As the drone population increases, the FAA is working on how to safety integrate them into our national air space.

Commercial space is also another exciting area of innovation.  In 2017, the United States regained its position as Number One in the world in commercial space launches.  At the President’s direction, the Department has embarked on a series of important rulemakings to update and streamline commercial space launch and re-entry licensing procedures, in order to keep pace with this fast growing industry.

These are just a few highlights of the Department’s current agenda. We look forward to continuing to work with our Canadian partners to make transportation safer, and to ensure that innovative new technologies and systems can be deployed safely, or the benefit of all.

Thank you for inviting me to be here with you today.


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