Speaking at the Drone Focus monthly meetup earlier this month in Fargo, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., stressed that beyond-line-of-sight operations and unmanned traffic management are key to demonstrating that unmanned aircraft systems can be safely integrated into the national airspace.
Hoeven also noted the two initiatives vital in advancing the UAS industry in North Dakota, according to a news release.
“The path forward for North Dakota’s UAS industry lies with beyond-line-of-sight operations and the development of an unmanned traffic management system,” Hoeven said in a statement. “These are key components in demonstrating that UAS, no matter the size, can be operated safely in our national airspace. We have worked hard to make our state the ideal partner in these efforts. Between the Northern Plains Test Site, Grand Sky, our research institutions and our Air Force and Air Guard missions and capabilities, we are well-positioned to lead the way on the future of UAS research, development and training.”
Hoeven continues to play a role in seeking approval from the Federal Aviation Administration allowing the Northern UAS Plains Test Site to support beyond-line-of-sight operations, the release said. The FAA has made a commitment to him to grant approval by the end of 2016, Hoeven said, which would make the North Dakota test site the first in the nation to have such operations.
This means the test site will be able to support the development, testing and evaluation of a wide range of new applications for UAS technology, giving the state a competitive edge in commercial UAS operations, training new pilots and in contending for the new UAS mission the U.S. Air Force plans to establish.
Hoeven said in the release that North Dakota is well-positioned to receive the FAA’s approval, due in part to the DASR-11 digital radar systems at Hector Field and Grand Forks Air Force Base, which received a total of $2 million for technical upgrades earlier this year.
The other area of interest to the senator is unmanned traffic management. Development of UTM system goes hand-in-hand with beyond-line-of-sight operations, Hoeven said.
Accordingly, the senator met with officials from NASA’s Ames Research Center earlier this year in California, including John Cavolowsky, NASA’s lead researcher in developing its UTM system. Cavolowsky served as the keynote speaker at this year’s Drone Focus conference in Fargo and spoke again at the UAS Summit in Grand Forks in August.
While in California, Hoeven made the case for partnering NASA with the Northern Plains UAS Test Site and Grand Sky to develop the agency’s UTM system and other programs. This partnership would build on work already undertaken by the test site, which helped NASA evaluate its traffic management platform in April by conducting close-proximity UAS flight tests.