Speaking at the Drone Focus monthly meet-up last week in Fargo, N.D., U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., stressed that beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) operations and unmanned traffic management (UTM) are key to demonstrating that unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) can be safely integrated into national airspace and are vital in advancing the industry in North Dakota.
“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. “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 said he has continued his efforts to secure approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to allow the Northern Plains Test Site to support BVLOS operations. The senator said the FAA has made a commitment to grant approval by the end of 2016 – which would make the North Dakota UAS test site the first in the nation to have such operability, Hoeven explained.
The senator said the development of a UTM system goes hand-in-hand with BVLOS operations. Accordingly, the senator met with officials from NASA’s Ames Research Center earlier this year in California, including Dr. John Cavolowsky, NASA’s lead researcher in developing its UTM system. Dr. Cavolowsky served as the keynote speaker at this year’s Drone Focus conference in Fargo, which he attended at Hoeven’s invitation.
While in California, Hoeven made the case for partnering NASA with the Northern Plains UAS Test Site and the Grand Sky Technology Park 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, said Hoeven.
Through his role on the appropriations committee, the senator added that he continues working to secure additional funding to support efforts across the federal government, including at the FAA test sites, NASA and the Department of Defense, to develop and demonstrate UAS technology.