Hoeven, Heitkamp Bring FAA Head to North Dakota, Administrator Announces State as First UAS Test Site to Be Up and running

Senators Show Huerta State’s UAS Success, Challenges Facing Western North Dakota

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – U.S. Senators Heidi Heitkamp and John Hoeven today brought Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael Huerta to North Dakota, where he announced that the Northern Plains Unmanned Systems Authority, headquartered in Grand Forks, is the nation first unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to be officially up and running.

The Senators today gave Huerta, who visited the state at the Senators’ request, a firsthand look at North Dakota’s incredible unmanned aerial potential as well as aviation challenges facing the western part of the state.

“Today’s announcement by Administrator Huerta that Grand Forks is the first of six sites to be operational reaffirmed what I have always said: North Dakota is a perfect spot for our nation to develop UAS technology and procedures, and help unleash the economic potential of this promising industry,” said Heitkamp. “Because of the incredibly hardworking, brilliant professionals working on the Test Site and unquestioned support throughout the state, North Dakota stands out from the rest. It is a tribute to so many North Dakotans who worked on this that we are the first Test Site to be up and running, and it’s great Administrator Huerta is able to see that for himself today.”

“Administrator Huerta's announcement that Grand Forks will receive the first COA–Certificate of Authorization—to go operational is right on the money," Hoeven said. “This effort started more than a decade ago, first getting the UAS mission to Grand Forks Air Force Base, then setting up the UAS Center of Excellence and passing legislation requiring the six national test sites for integrating UAS into the National Airspace. So it is incredibly gratifying today to have Administrator Huerta with today in Grand forks to see all the incredible work that has been done and to be part of this great effort. In a month, Northrop Grumman will partner with Grand Forks County to become the anchor tenant at Grand Sky, a new cutting-edge UAS technology and business park. With our Air Space Integration Team, North Dakota truly is leading the nation in UAS development.”

Heitkamp and Hoeven hosted Huerta in Grand Forks, which in December was named one of six sites nationwide to help the FAA move toward UAS integration into the National Airspace. The announcement came after years of work by North Dakota’s leaders to position the state as a premier hub for UAS education, research and industry. After a tour of the University of North Dakota’s UAS educational facilities, Heitkamp and Hoeven facilitated a discussion with Huerta and test site officials, higher education administrators, and local officials and business leaders.

The Senators and Huerta then traveled to Williston, where the Administrator experienced the challenges facing airports in western North Dakota. For instance, passenger enplanements increased from 8,500 in 2007 to more than 186,000 in 2013 at Sloulin Field International Airport in Williston, placing major stress on airport infrastructure. During a discussion with local leaders and airport officials, Heitkamp and Hoeven stressed to Huerta the need for the FAA to assist the community in constructing a new airport to support dramatically increased demand. Williston requires an entirely new airport because development around its current location prevents the airport from expanding.

“Administrator Huerta was able to see and hear about western North Dakota’s immense airport infrastructure needs – from large endeavors like the Williston Airport Relocation Project, to modest efforts, such as maintaining and updating our existing facilities,” said Heitkamp. “The increased use and expansion of air transportation in North Dakota is a major economic success story. However, this success has resulted in increased infrastructure costs and current needs far outpace available dollars.”

“Western North Dakota’s growth has brought tremendous benefits and tremendous needs for infrastructure, and that includes infrastructure for air travel,” Hoeven said. “In the past few years, we’ve seen Delta Air Lines and United Airlines initiate flights to and from Minneapolis and Denver, and we’ve seen boardings grow enormously. We wanted Administrator Huerta to see firsthand the need for a new airport and to make sure he knows that as a member of the Appropriations Committee, I will work with him to find the resources necessary to keep pace with the infrastructure needs of this dynamic city and region.”