A major announcement out of North Dakota today marks a leap forward for the advancing commercial drone industry.

The state’s Northern Plains UAS Test Site (NPUAST) received permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct beyond-visual-line-of-sight flights from the Grand Forks, N.D., area.

It’s the first certificate of authorization awarded to a test site and supporters say is a testament to the NPUASTS’ culture of safety and professionalism.

The permissions give the test site a competitive edge and will likely attract droves of research partners looking to incorporate BVLOS into their operations. Otherwise, companies that have applied for waivers under the new Part 107 must sit and wait for their approvals.

Many agree BVLOS capability is needed to advance the industry as a whole and allow it to reach its full potential for commercial applications.

For example, companies such as the Grand Forks-based flight services firm SkySkopes specialise in infrastructure inspections. With miles of transmission lines to cover, beyond-line-of-sight is necessary to completing those operations efficiently.

“This truly goes to show the strength of our UAS ecosystem in Grand Forks, N.D.,” SkySkopes President and CEO Matt Dunlevy said. “The BVLOS permissions granted by the FAA to our state’s Test Site are going to serve as a proof of concept for the entire industry. We at SkySkopes are happy to have a front row seat and look forward to further partnering with them.”

The test site’s COA also represents progress with the FAA, an agency that has taken a slow, cautious approach to awarding groundbreaking permissions. It’s likely similar permissions will be awarded to other test sites and even businesses once the safety case is proven in North Dakota.

Congressional leaders such as U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., have been instrumental in lobbying the FAA on behalf of UAS researchers and business and many in the industry hope to see this support continue.

“Sen. Hoeven has been an unbelievable champion for UAS in North Dakota,” Dunlevy said. “His commitment to working with Congress and the FAA to secure BVLOS permissions for our test site will pay dividends and keeps our state at the forefront of national UAS leadership.  Now that we’ve seen a COA approved for BVLOS operations, SkySkopes looks forward to our BVLOS waivers being approved.”

By Gary Mortimer

Founder and Editor of sUAS News | Gary Mortimer has been a commercial balloon pilot for 25 years and also flies full-size helicopters. Prior to that, he made tea and coffee in air traffic control towers across the UK as a member of the Royal Air Force.