Hoeven: FAA Expands Airspace, Allows Night Flight Testing for Northern Plains UAS Test Site

WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven today announced that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has authorized expanded airspace and night flight testing for the Northern Plains unmanned aerial systems (UAS) test site in Grand Forks. The authorization will allow for more efficient research and testing toward safely integrating UAS into the national airspace and makes North Dakota the first state with approval to fly at night. This approval, along with the authority to fly above 200 feet for UAS testing puts the North Dakota test site in the lead for UAS testing and concurrent airspace use in the National Airspace (NAS) among the test sites. 

“UAS technologies offer many opportunities across a wide variety of uses, including agriculture, energy and border security,” Hoeven said. “Today’s announcement by the FAA will support the Northern Plains test site and the Grand Forks region’s continued excellence in testing and developing these technologies. That means greater opportunities for our state’s residents in this growing and vibrant industry.”

Hoeven has worked, both as governor and now as senator, to establish and maintain North Dakota’s leadership in UAS technologies. He led the effort to establish the six national test sites to focus on UAS airspace integration and worked closely with the UAS community in North Dakota to bring one of the sites to the state. The FAA selected North Dakota as a test site on December 30, 2013.

The senator is sponsoring new legislation that will support the mission of the test site by helping build the commercial UAS industry and promote innovation in this rapidly growing field. In May, Hoeven and Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced the Commercial UAS Modernization Act, legislation that sets interim operating guidelines for small commercial UAS to be flown in coordination with the FAA’s UAS integration test sites, including the North Plains test site. The legislation will set interim safety rules, help speed up the process for commercial users seeking to fly small unmanned aircraft and preserve the FAA’s rulemaking authority while providing the agency with the flexibility to make changes in the final rule as necessary. 

Hoeven also helped Grand Forks County secure an Enhanced Use Lease (EUL) with the U.S. Air Force for the development of Grand Sky Business and Technology Park on the grounds of the Grand Forks Air Force Base (GFAFB). The park is designed to attract entrepreneurial business to the region.

In 2012, Hoeven brought senior Northrop Grumman officials to Grand Forks to see firsthand the collaboration that led to Grand Sky. As a result, Northrop Grumman, one of the world’s premier aerospace and defense technology companies, committed to be the park’s first tenant. The senator continues working to showcase Grand Sky as an ideal site to locate UAS-related and other aviation companies. To this end, Hoeven hosted senior officials from FlightSafety International and General Atomics in bids to recruit the companies and bolster the UAS industry in the region.

Earlier this year, Hoeven announced that the Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Bill includes nearly $15 million to continue efforts to integrate UAS into the national airspace. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Hoeven worked to secure the funds and to include language that requires that the FAA use the six national UAS test sites to conduct flight operations aimed at this integration. Further, within the $15 million provided by the bill, $5 million is dedicated for research conducted through the UAS Center of Excellence, which is co-led by the University of North Dakota.

The senator has also introduced language into the defense appropriations bill to allow the Air Force to use private contractors to train pilots to fly remotely piloted aircraft (RPA). The language encourages the Air Force to partner with contractors and leverage their facilities, equipment and personnel to augment pilot training capacity and provide a near-term solution to the shortfall of qualified RPA pilots.