Senator John Hoeven today outlined three key steps that will help establish Grand Forks as a regional center for Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS).
Language in the Department of Defense Authorization Bill requiring the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to establish UAS National Airspace integration pilot projects
Passage of a funding measure supporting Global Hawk programs, and
Recent coordination between the FAA and the North Dakota UAS Integration Team
Hoeven said all are critical to developing the nation’s UAS capabilities and growing the Grand Fork’s region into a national northern UAS center. The senator announced the three initiatives at a news conference on the Grand Forks Air Force Base with local leaders and Air Force officials.
“These initiatives are key steps in capitalizing on the opportunities for growing our nation’s UAS capabilities,” said Hoeven. “We’re working on the local, state and federal level to showcase the Grand Forks region is an optimal location to test integration. Flying unmanned aircraft concurrently with manned aircraft represents an enormous chance for growth. Our state has clear skies, strong existing infrastructure and a united group of stakeholders that make it a strong choice for a test site, and we’ll continue working to ensure we stay at the forefront of UAS opportunities.”
* Defense Legislation Requires UAS Pilot Project
The FY 2012 Defense Authorization bill passed by Congress on Thursday includes an important provision requiring the FAA Administrator to develop six pilot test sites as part of a program for safely flying manned and unmanned aircraft concurrently in the National Airspace (NAS). The legislation requires the FAA to consider geographical and climatic diversity, as well as the location of ground infrastructure, in naming the test sites. Hoeven worked with both FAA and DoD to develop language that required taking geographical and climatic diversity into account. With the state’s clear skies, current Predator and Global Hawk UAS missions and the University of North Dakota’s Aerospace program, the language bolsters North Dakota’s chances of being named a northern test site. The FAA must establish the integration pilot program within 180 days.
* Funding for Global Hawk UAS Programs
A member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and also a conferee for the committee that reconciled the House and Senate versions of the bills, Hoeven worked to ensure the FY 2012 defense funding measure provided for North Dakota priorities, including the Global Hawk program. The funding bill, which was passed by Congress on Saturday, includes more than $908 million for the Global Reconnaissance aircraft, including the procurement of additional aircraft and research and development. In June, Grand Forks Air Force Base received its first Global Hawk as part of the base’s new UAS mission. In July, the Air Force activated a new unit at the base to operate and maintain the Global Hawk missions.
* ND UAS Integration Team Coordinating with FAA
In early December, Hoeven, along with the delegation and governor’s office, arranged a meeting between the North Dakota Integration Team and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. The integration team represents a unified coalition of stakeholders and is comprised of representatives from the aviation community, UND, North Dakota National Guard, private companies, and local and state economic development officials. They presented the FAA with a proposal for integrating the aircrafts into the NAS using partnerships and infrastructure in North Dakota and are working to coordinate with FAA officials to ensure the region maintains an edge in the UAS industry.
“There’s more work to do to make Grand Forks a national UAS center, but we’re making real progress and these are real milestones,” Hoeven said.