Hoeven Keynotes Drone Focus, Reviews Accomplishments & Ongoing Initiatives to Spur Growth in UAS Industry

Senator Secured State’s Role in FAA Pilot Program, Advancing Counter-UAS Development and Pilot Training Initiatives

FARGO, N.D. – Senator John Hoeven today gave a keynote address at the annual Drone Focus conference, where he highlighted the accomplishments of North Dakota’s unmanned aerial systems (UAS) industry and reviewed his ongoing initiatives to further position the state for growth in this dynamic industry. Following his remarks, the senator introduced Derek Kan, U.S. Under Secretary of Transportation for Policy, who is attending the conference at Hoeven’s invitation.

“North Dakota continues to leverage its expertise in UAS to secure new opportunities,” said Hoeven. “Our participation in the FAA’s Drone Integration Pilot Program will help keep us front and center in developing not only unmanned aircraft, but also all of the technologies that make up the UAS ecosystem. That means the technology to detect and counter UAS, which is required for this industry to thrive. It also opens the door to greater pilot training, both at UND and at the private academies in Grand Sky, as we work to ensure our nation has an adequate supply of qualified pilots for manned and unmanned aircraft. The impacts of these efforts reach a variety of sectors, including federal, military and private, and from large multinationals to small startups. Our state is positioned to help meet these needs across the board.”

FAA Drone Integration Pilot Program

Hoeven recently joined Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to announce that North Dakota was selected as one of ten sites to participate in the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) UAS integration pilot program. As part of this program, the North Dakota test site and the state’s UAS industry will be on the forefront of establishing the safe operation of unmanned aircraft in the national airspace (NAS), providing regulatory certainty for UAS operators and ensuring privacy concerns are addressed. Hoeven worked with Secretary Chao since the program launched to secure the state’s role. Hoeven also hosted Chao at the annual Drone Focus conference last year, giving her firsthand knowledge of the state’s UAS industry.

Counter-UAS Technology Development

            The state’s inclusion in the pilot program reinforces its role in developing the ability to detect and counter the potential misuse of unmanned aircraft. This capability is central to safely integrating UAS into the NAS. In order to advance this effort, Hoeven recently helped introduce the Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018, bipartisan legislation that would give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) authority to protect important facilities from security risks posed by unmanned aircraft. The bill also directs DHS to evaluate emerging UAS threats and to research and test technology to address these risks. 

This legislation dovetails with Hoeven advocating the use of North Dakota’s UAS facilities and expertise to both develop counter-UAS technologies and train the DHS’s UAS pilots. To this end, the senator and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen are working on a timeline for her to visit Grand Forks this summer, which will allow her to see firsthand the work of the Grand Sky Technology Park, the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, the Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) UAS facility and the Grand Forks Air Force Base.

Addressing the Nation’s Pilot Shortage

            Hoeven is also advancing the Grand Forks region as a solution to the nation’s pilot shortage, both for manned and unmanned aircraft. At a recent Defense Appropriations Committee hearing, Hoeven highlighted for National Guard and Air Force leaders the University of North Dakota’s Pathways Program partnership with CBP and a new UND effort, authorized and funded by a Hoeven-sponsored provision, to train Air Force ROTC cadets as innovative methods the Air Force should embrace to train future pilots. Further, Hoeven secured an amendment in the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act to allow the National Guard to send UAS pilots to a civilian contractor, like those at Grand Sky, for training if the Air Force cannot timely train pilots.

Growing North Dakota’s UAS Industry

These efforts come as part of Hoeven’s work to ensure the continued growth of North Dakota’s UAS industry. In addition, the senator is promoting the state’s role in developing low altitude beyond-visual-line-of-sight applications and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) unmanned traffic management (UTM) system. The state is able to lead advancements in these areas due to two components Hoeven helped secure in recent years:

  • Authorization for the Northern Plains UAS Test Site to oversee UAS operations that go beyond the visual line of sight of the operator.
  • Upgraded digital radar systems at the Grand Forks Air Force Base and at Hector Field in Fargo.