Hoeven Joins DOT Secretary at Launch of FAA Drone Integration Pilot Program, Working to Secure North Dakota's Role in New Projects

WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven today joined Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael Huerta in marking the launch of the FAA’s new drone integration pilot program, which was announced last month. In his remarks, Hoeven stressed that the relationship built between government and the unmanned aerial systems (UAS) industry in North Dakota should serve as a model for the nation to help advance the integration of this technology into the national airspace (NAS). The senator said such an approach would help create a regulatory environment that allows development of this technology while protecting the privacy rights and safety of citizens. 

To this end, Hoeven is working to set up a meeting between the FAA and UAS leaders from Grand Forks, including those from the Northern Plains Test Site and Grand Sky Development Company. This will provide them an opportunity to outline North Dakota’s UAS expertise and infrastructure to the FAA and help ensure the agency utilizes the unique advantages of the state when selecting projects under the new integration program. Further bolstering this effort, Hoeven sent a letter to Secretary Chao last week to help secure the state’s role in the pilot program and hosted the secretary at the annual Drone Focus conference in Fargo this past May, giving her firsthand knowledge of North Dakota’s dynamic UAS industry.

“For states and localities that are less familiar with UAS, there is going to be more hesitation about adopting this technology into our airspace,” Hoeven said. “North Dakota’s expertise in UAS, coupled with the FAA’s new pilot project, provides an opportunity to expand awareness of the benefits of UAS in growing the economy and creating new jobs in a wide variety of sectors. The President and Secretary Chao are offering this opportunity for drone integration in the national airspace. Exciting and innovative companies represented here today along with local and state governments are going to be starting new projects. In North Dakota, we’ve been working on these endeavors for 12 years and we have an amazing array of resources. We want to work with you, we want to partner with you and we want to help you with your application to the DOT. We want to help your project be successful.”

Hoeven continues to build on the past decade of efforts to ensure North Dakota leads in developing the future of the UAS industry. This includes low altitude beyond-line-of-flight applications, UAS detection/counter-UAS technologies and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) unmanned traffic management (UTM) system. These technologies are central to safely incorporating UAS into the NAS, developing new commercial applications for unmanned aircraft and protecting against rogue UAS threats. The state is able to lead advancements in these areas due to two components Hoeven helped secure over the past couple of years:

  • Authorization for the Northern Plains UAS Test Site to oversee UAS operations that go beyond the line of sight of the operator.
  • Upgrades for the DASR-11 digital radar systems at the Grand Forks Air Force Base and a similar system at Hector Field in Fargo. 

The senator has also been working to provide additional UAS pilot training options for the military. Hoeven secured a provision in the Senate passed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that authorizes the National Guard to send unmanned aircraft pilots to a civilian contractor for training if the Air Force lacks the capacity to train pilots in a timely fashion. For many years, the Air Force has struggled to train enough pilots to fly the Predator and Reaper, and the Air National Guard has often seen delays in getting its pilots fully trained for these platforms. Hoeven’s amendment ensures that pilots are able to train using UAS training academies, like those at Grand Sky Technology Park, adjacent to Grand Forks Air Force Base. 

Hoeven is also working to secure an Arctic mission for Grand Forks. Hoeven secured language rejecting the proposed elimination of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s UAS program office. The Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 Commerce Justice Science (CJS) appropriations bill, which was marked up in committee in July, includes report language that rejects the elimination of the UAS program office, instructs NOAA to spend no less on UAS in FY18 than it did in FY17 and encourages NOAA to conduct Arctic research using its UAS assets.  

In August, Hoeven hosted U.S. Air Force (USAF) General Lori Robinson, leader of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and Commander, U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM), for a meeting and tour at the GFAFB and Grand Sky. The senator has worked in recent years to secure an Arctic mission for Grand Forks. Hoeven led a delegation to NORTHCOM headquarters in 2014 and invited Gen. Robinson to the state last year.