Hoeven Presses Customs and Border Protection Commissioner to Partner with UAS Test Sites

Senator Highlights Advantage of Grand Forks Test Site to Integrate UAS, Enhance Northern Border Security

WASHINGTON – In a letter to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske last week, Senator John Hoeven pressed CBP to partner with the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) unmanned aerial system (UAS) test sites as CBP develops UAS technology. Grand Forks was designated as one of FAA’s six UAS test sites in December 2013.

“As home to one of the six FAA test sites, Grand Forks is a premier hub for UAS technology and training and an ideal location for CBP to pursue its goal of integrating small UAS into their operations,” Hoeven said. “That’s why we’ve asked CBP to take advantage of the extensive resources and expertise offered by these test sites, including Grand Forks.”

The letter references a Hoeven-sponsored provision included in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding legislation, passed this June by the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, of which Senator Hoeven is a member. This provision encourages DHS to coordinate its UAS research with the FAA’s six national test sites to ensure that whatever new technology the agency develops conforms to the operational and safety standards the sites develop to integrate UAS into the National Airspace, ultimately resulting in DHS-sponsored flights at the test sites. CBP currently operates the Predator-B aircraft out of Grand Forks to perform security missions along the nation’s northern border.

The text of the letter follows:

July 22, 2014

R. Gil Kerlikowske, Commissioner

Bureau of Customs and Border Protection

1300 Pennsylvania Av. NW

Washington DC, 20229

Dear Commissioner Kerlikowske:

The Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has a successful track record of deploying unmanned aerial system (UAS) technology. CBP flights out of North Dakota’s Grand Forks Air Force Base enhance the security of our northern border and demonstrate the growing potential of UAS technology to provide cost-effective solutions to problems in a variety of areas. In fact, due to the success of CBP’s UAS operations, I understand that the Bureau faces increasing demand to employ UAS across its range of customs and border activities.

To keep up with increased demand, CBP will need to develop new capabilities, particularly in the area of small UAS. I believe that the most cost-effective way for CBP to develop small UAS technology will come by taking advantage of the UAS test sites recently designated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The six sites, including one adjacent to Grand Forks Air Force Base, are intended to develop and validate the technology required to integrate UAS into the national airspace (NAS). As such, they provide a unique test bed for CBP to explore and enhance its UAS work while advancing the FAA’s airspace integration objectives.

The importance of such interagency cooperation is reflected in language I included in the Senate Appropriations Committee’s report to accompany the Fiscal Year 2015 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations bill, encouraging DHS “to use the FAA’s six test sites to meet its goal of enabling and enhancing small UAS access to the NAS and to ensure that new technologies developed through the Department’s air based technology research meet the operational and safety standards the FAA will develop at the test sites.”

I therefore hope that CBP, in recognition of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s emphasis on interagency cooperation for UAS integration, will take advantage of the North Dakota test site that is essentially co-located with CBP’s northern UAS hub. Such efforts will accelerate the development of technology CBP will need to meet increasing demand, will be cost effective and greatly benefit the national effort to integrate UAS into the NAS.

Please keep me informed of your efforts to work with the test sites consistent with the language in the committee report, and please let me know how I can assist CBP to advance its UAS mission.