Hoeven Announces Beyond-Visual-Line-of-Sight Authorization for General Atomics at Grand Sky UAS Park

Senator Brings USAF Chief of Staff & FAA Assistant Administrator to Grand Forks for UAS Summit, Outlines Next Big Steps in UAS Integration into National Airspace

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – At the Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Summit and Expo today, Senator John Hoeven announced that General Atomics, a tenant of the Grand Sky UAS Research and Development Park, has received a certificate of authorization (COA) to conduct beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) flights within 60 miles of the Grand Forks Air Force Base without a visual observer or a chase plane. Hoeven made the announcement during a panel discussion he arranged at the event with U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Assistant Administrator Bailey Edwards.

General Atomics BVLOS Waiver

General Atomics’ COA is based on the BVLOS authorization that Hoeven previously secured for the Northern Plains UAS Test Site. The company will fly its MQ-9 Predator out of Grand Sky without a chase plane, relying instead on ground-based sense and avoid technologies, including the upgraded DASR-11 radar in Grand Forks, which Hoeven funded through his role on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“This is a big step that will help us to advance UAS operations and comes as the result of our work to both fund the DASR-11 radar and secure authorization from the FAA. Requiring a visual observer adds significant cost and complications to UAS operations and limits the ability of General Atomics, Grand Sky, the test site and others to develop this technology, which is why we’ve been working closely with the FAA to allow broader permission for BVLOS flights,” said Senator Hoeven. “Now, General Atomics will be able to fly UAS without an observer or chase plane up to 60 miles from the air base. This is a significant expansion of the company’s unmanned operations in the state, another important step toward safely integrating this technology into our airspace and further proof that North Dakota is the location of choice for UAS research, development, testing and operations. ”

The authorization comes as the result of Hoeven’s efforts with the FAA, including with Ali Bahrami, Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, to help provide certainty for BVLOS UAS operations in North Dakota. Hoeven secured a commitment from Bahrami to provide a specific list of requirements and a timeline that would allow BVLOS operations to proceed on a routine basis, and the senator announced similar authorizations for Xcel Energy and the North Dakota Integration Pilot Program (IPP) earlier this month.

UAS Summit

Hoeven brought Goldfein and Bailey to the UAS Summit to give the federal officials firsthand knowledge of North Dakota’s unique UAS ecosystem and to outline the next big steps in safely integrating this technology into the national airspace.

“We have always had our sights on integrating UAS into the national airspace, which will allow us to unlock the vast potential of this technology,” Hoeven said. “It’s no simple task, and in order to do so safely, we’ve work to ensure North Dakota has the capabilities to tackle everything that integration entails. That includes developing counter-UAS technologies, managing unmanned air traffic and flying in a variety of conditions, including at night, at any altitude and over people. We appreciate Gen. Goldfein and Assistant Administrator Edwards for joining us at the UAS Summit and helping outline our path forward in these critical areas.”

In addition to broader BVLOS operations, Hoeven has advanced the following initiatives to further establish North Dakota as the nation’s proving ground for unmanned aircraft:

  • Expanding the Red River Valley’s UAS Super Corridor into the Fargo region through an enhanced radar system at Hector Field, which the senator worked to fund and is set to be completed next month.
  • Developing an unmanned traffic management (UTM) system under a pilot program with the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, the FAA, NASA and the test sites in Nevada and Virginia. 
    • Hoeven supported provisions in both the 2016 and 2018 FAA reauthorization bills that directed the agency to work with NASA on the UTM system.
    • NASA previously relied on North Dakota to test and evaluate UTM technology, and Hoeven visited NASA’s Ames Research Center in a bid to partner the facility with the test site and Grand Sky.
  • Implementing the Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018, bipartisan legislation that Hoeven helped introduce and pass to support the development of counter-UAS technology and protect important facilities from potential misuse of unmanned aircraft.