North Dakota has been selected as one of 10 participants in a pilot program to integrate unmanned aerial systems into the national airspace. The U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration has selected the North Dakota Department of Transportation, with the Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site in Grand Forks, for the UAS Integration Pilot Program.
“This is a fantastic initiative,” said Matt Dunlevy, president of SkySkopes, Grand Forks. SkySkopes has an operational base in Minot, largely serving the energy industry.
Dunlevy called the selection a game-changing award, especially with the potential to fly drones beyond visual line of sight of the operator
“I expect this, unequivocally to mean new UAS missions to be staged out of the city of Minot,” he said. “If I were a utility or oil and gas company in North Dakota, I would have reason to be happy about this.”
He also said the selection will be significant for Minot Area Development Corp. and its efforts to grow the UAS industry in Minot through its Magic Sky Initiative.
The state’s U.S. senators, governor’s office and transportation and commerce departments applauded the selection.
“Today’s announcement further cements North Dakota’s position as a national leader in transportation and UAS advancement,” Gov. Doug Burgum said in a prepared statement.
Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, chairman of the Northern Plains Unmanned Systems Authority, said the N.D. Department of Transportation and Northern Plains UAS Test Site will use their strong connections with private and public stakeholders to collaborate on additional avenues of exploration for UAS use. The commerce department stated the program will be the next great step to expedite commercialization of UAS.
The program will enable local and state governments to:
– obtain expedited FAA approval for airspace authorization.
– work with private-sector partners on advanced commercial drone operations and applications of technology.
– demonstrate technical and operational solutions that reduce the need for federal waivers.
– incorporate community participation to provoke meaningful dialogue relative to drone operations.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND, noted North Dakota has been a proven leader in UAS research already.
“We have seen how safe and efficient UAS could help farmers grow crops, enable the state to monitor energy infrastructure and be deployed to protect the Northern Border,” she said in a news release. “As drones become further integrated into our airspace, there is vast potential for unmanned systems and the economic impact they can create–but we need to make sure it happens in a safe and sustainable manner.”
Sen. John Hoeven, R-ND, said the award means North Dakota’s UAS will be on the forefront of establishing the safe operation of unmanned aircraft in the national airspace, providing regulatory certainty for the industry and ensuring privacy concerns are addressed. He predicts tremendous growth in the technology, bringing investment and good jobs.
“And it’s happening right here in North Dakota. That’s big news for the test site, the companies at Grand Sky Technology Park, our universities and the UAS industry across our state,” Hoeven said in a news release.