Drone Biz: North Dakota Support For Drone Industry To Continue Amid Financial Uncertainty

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — North Dakota Lt. Gov. Brett Sanford confirmed May 11 that the state will continue to champion the unmanned aircraft systems industry despite cuts to state research funding.

As part of a more than $1 billion state budget decrease, about $4.3 million in grant funds for the Research ND program were trimmed. The program provides matching dollars for research projects that include a partnership between a state university and a business.

At least a dozen drone-related projects have received funding from the program since its inception.

Though the state is in a tough spot financially, Sanford told the audience of Drone Biz, a monthly luncheon held in Grand Forks, he hoped to see funding for research and technology programs reinstated in the future.

Overall, funding for drone economic development did see continued support from the state.

“This is obviously very high on the list,” Sanford said. “This is the only area where the governor suggested more funding in the budget.”

In total, the Legislature approved $5 million in funding for UAS-related activities. Of that sum, $2 million is provided as an operational budget for the state’s Northern Plains UAS Test Site, which serves as a research hub for the safe integration of drones into the national airspace.

The remaining $3 million will be used for building and updating infrastructure, research, development, software creation and equipment purchases at Grand Sky, an aviation business park located at Grand Forks Air Force Base.

Grand Sky is the staging ground for beyond-visual-line-of-sight flight research that is set to begin this summer. That research requires use of the base’s digital radar system, and part of the state funds will be used to build a link between the park and the radar.

The $5 million allocated for the 2017-19 biennium brings North Dakota’s total investment of state money into the unmanned industry to $42 million since 2006.

“We know we’re leading in the nation in UAS work,” Sanford said. “We don’t want to lose that steam as other states try to eclipse us and are investing money in these programs.”

Drone Biz is held at noon every second Thursday of the month at rotating locations in Grand Forks.