Unmanned aircraft officials meet with Hoeven to talk industry future


By Brandi Jewett

Local leaders in the unmanned aerial systems industry met Thursday with U.S. Sen. John Hoeven in Grand Forks to discuss strategy for advancing UAS operations in the state.

In a recent round of legislation, the Air Force’s Global Hawk program was fully funded along with additional UAS research dollars for the Department of Defense and the Federal Aviation Administration.

It’s good news locally as a Global Hawk mission runs out of Grand Forks Air Force Base and North Dakota’s Northern Plains UAS Test Site — headquartered in Grand Forks — could potentially see money for research projects perform under its purview.

UAS leaders told Hoeven the next step is getting a decision on the test site’s pending certificate of authorization. The certificate allows unmanned aircraft to operate legally within a specified geographic area.

Test site Executive Director Bob Becklund said the test site needs to know if the certificate of authorization is accepted or denied by year’s end so staff can plan to resubmit applications and potentially have them approved by the time UAS crop research would gear up in March.

The tract of land covered by the request is large, but Becklund said it was submitted that way to save the administration time by covering a number of areas where researchers want to fly.

“If they deny it, we’ll have to inundate them with 50 or more individual (certificates of authorization),” he said. “The labor hours on that would be just tremendous.”

The FAA notes the normal wait time to approve or deny a certificate is about 60 to 90 days.

Becklund and others previously expressed concern over the length of time it has taken the FAA to review the applications. This is the test site’s third attempt at a certificate.

Hoeven told the group he had met with FAA Administrator Michael Huerta recently and passed on their concerns, noting the large size of the certificate has played a role in the wait. Hoeven added he did asked Huerta to expedite the North Dakota test site’s certificate of authorization request.