Senate Approves Hoeven Amendment to FAA Bill Extending UAS Test Sites Authorization for Five Years

Amendment to Strengthen UAS Research and Development, Support Work at UND Also Included

WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven today announced that the FAA Reauthorization bill now under consideration in the Senate includes an amendment he authored and introduced that will extend for five years congressional authorization for the nation’s six unmanned aerial systems (UAS) test sites tasked with integrating UAS into the National Airspace. Under current law, the test sites’ authorization expires next year, on September 30, 2017. The Senate approved Hoeven’s amendment Monday evening.

The senator spoke on the Senate floor this week to urge support for his bipartisan legislation, which he said would enable the six UAS tests sites, including the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in Grand Forks, to continue to advance their work.

“The test sites have already made remarkable gains, such as nighttime operations, flying multiple aircraft in the same airspace and researching and testing aircraft up to 1,200 feet,” Hoeven said. “Nevertheless, there’s much left to do, and that will require investment and support from industry partners. Those partners will be much more likely to use the FAA test sites if they can be sure those sites will be operational beyond the end of Fiscal Year 2017.”

The FAA Reauthorization bill passed by Congress in February 2012 included an amendment introduced by Hoeven that directed the agency to establish six test sites tasked with integrating UAS into the National Airspace. The six sites were established beginning in December 2013 following a competitive process, and Grand Forks Air Force Base was named as one of the sites. The 2012 bill authorized the test sites for five years, and the current Hoeven amendment would extend their authorization by an additional five years, through September 30, 2022.

Support for UAS Research and Development at UND

The Senate also approved a second amendment offered by Hoeven and Senator Thad Cochran to strengthen existing UAS research programs, including the FAA’s Center of Excellence on UAS (COE) which is led by the University of North Dakota (UND) and the Mississippi State. The amendment instructs the FAA Administrator to leverage to the maximum extent possible the capabilities of the UAS COE and the test sites when establishing standards for UAS safety and certification of UAS aircraft. The COE, established in May 2015, is responsible for researching and developing technologies and policies for the use of UAS in the United States.