Hoeven, Warner Introduce Legislation to Reauthorize UAS Test Sites, Support Unmanned Research & Development

Bill Would Help Northern Plains UAS Test Site Validate Technologies for Integrating Unmanned Aircraft into National Airspace

WASHINGTON – Senators John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) this week introduced legislation to support the research and development of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) technologies at the nation’s UAS test sites. Specifically, the bill:

  • Extends the authorization for the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) UAS test sites for an additional five years through 2028.
  • Formally authorizes research grants through the FAA for the purpose of demonstrating or validating technology related to the integration of UAS in the national airspace system (NAS).
    • Through his role on the Senate Transportation Appropriations Committee, Hoeven has made funding available for similar grants each fiscal year (FY) since FY2019.
  • Requires a grant recipient to have a contract with an FAA UAS test site, such as the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in North Dakota.
  • Identifies key research priorities, including: detect and avoid capabilities; beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations; operation of multiple unmanned aircraft systems; unmanned systems traffic management; command and control; and UAS safety standards.

“UAS play a crucial role in our country’s defense, and there is tremendous potential yet to be realized, benefiting our national security as well as our economy,” said Senator Hoeven. “The UAS test sites, including the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in North Dakota, are at the center of our efforts to ensure these aircraft can be safely integrated into our national airspace. This legislation supports their ongoing work and dovetails with the new BVLOS waivers we recently secured for our test site, further strengthening North Dakota’s position in this dynamic industry.”

“Unmanned Aerial Systems have the potential to transform the way we manage disasters, maintain our infrastructure, administer medicine, tackle national security threats, and conduct day-to-day business,” said Senator Warner. “UAS test sites, such as the one located at Virginia Tech, are crucial to the research and development of these technologies and I am glad to continue building on the progress we have made over the last decade.”

The legislation builds upon Hoeven’s efforts to expand UAS operations in North Dakota and advance the state’s leadership in this rapidly-growing sector. To this end, Hoeven recently secured waivers from the FAA for expanded BVLOS unmanned flights for the Northern Plains UAS Test Site. This includes waivers to:

  • Allow BVLOS flights in the Grand Forks region utilizing enhanced radar software.
    • The software upgrades improve the safety and security of BVLOS flights, but required a new waiver from the FAA before being deployed.
  • Support UAS flights involving aircraft that do not have a public designation, which means:
    • Companies can fly with the test site to get the experience necessary to prove that their aircraft are safe in preparation for accessing the wider NAS.
    • A larger number of companies will be in position to obtain BVLOS waivers through the test site in the future.

New BVLOS waivers face a lengthy approval process, and Hoeven worked to accelerate these approvals based on North Dakota’s strong track record of safe UAS operations.