Hoeven: Northern Plains UAS Test Site Selected to Help Develop Unmanned Traffic Management System

Senator Advanced Key Initiatives Securing the State’s Inclusion in UTM Pilot Program

WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven today issued the following statement after Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has selected the Northern Plains Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Test Site to serve in its unmanned traffic management (UTM) pilot program (UPP). The pilot program seeks to integrate small UAS into the nation’s airspace at lower altitudes. Under this program, North Dakota’s test site will serve as one of three entities responsible for maturing UTM technologies and capabilities and managing airspace for the FAA, NASA and UTM industry partners. These technologies include flight planning, UAS communications and weather services for UAS flying under 400 feet.

“This designation for our test site by DOT is a big deal because we, along with the Nevada and Virginia test sites, will work with FAA and NASA to develop the UTM system, which will serve as the rules of the road for low-altitude UAS in the United States,” said Hoeven. “North Dakota has previously supported the development of these capabilities, so it only makes sense that our test site would be selected. This builds on North Dakota’s selection in the FAA’s integration pilot program last year, as well as our years of effort to partner our state with NASA’s UTM development.” 

“The Northern Plains UAS Test Site looks forward to contributing to future rulemaking of UAS Traffic Management through this collaboration with our industry partners and the FAA,” said Nicholas Flom, Executive Director of the Northern Plain UAS Test Site.

Hoeven has been working to ensure North Dakota is well-positioned to help develop UTM capabilities and advanced initiatives that were key to the inclusion of the state’s test site in the UPP, including:

Securing the state’s role in the FAA’s Integration Pilot Program (IPP)

Hoeven worked with Secretary Chao since the program launched to ensure the North Dakota’s inclusion and joined her in announcing the state’s selection last year. The UPP specifically builds on the work of this initiative.

Authorizing and extending the FAA UAS Test Sites 

Hoeven sponsored the original provision creating the test sites in 2012 and secured an extension through 2023 in the recently-passed FAA reauthorization bill. The senator also helped advance an updated certificate of authorization for the test site, making possible the first unmanned beyond-visual-line-of-sight flight without a chase plane last fall.

Partnering the FAA, NASA and North Dakota

Hoeven supported provisions in both the 2016 and 2018 FAA authorization bills that directed the agency to work with NASA in establishing this pilot program. 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. 

Following this, Hoeven hosted Dr. John Cavolowsky, NASA’s lead researcher in developing its UTM system, in North Dakota. Dr. Cavolowsky served as the keynote speaker at the 2016 Drone Focus conference in Fargo, which he attended at Hoeven’s invitation, and spoke again at the 2016 UAS Summit in Grand Forks.

Increasing federal funding for the development of UTM technology

Through his role on the Defense Appropriations Committee, Hoeven secured $4 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 to partner the Department of Defense and NASA in developing this system. The senator also help provide NASA with $5 million in FY2017 to develop its UTM system.