Grand Forks UAS initiative cleared to fly beyond line of sight

The drone/UAS business is moving fast, but one of the big squelch points has been removed. Previously, flying commercial drones beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) was not allowed. Yesterday, that changed — at least in the Grand Forks Area.

The full news release from Senator Hoeven’s office follows below, but the announcement therein marks the authorization of a 100-mile long Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Super Corridor in which regulations on commercial drone operations are greatly reduced.

It’s a big story for Minot, in part for what we’re not a part of. Minot’s economic development efforts over past years have included efforts to kick-start a UAS ecosystem. This regulatory decision will make the East part of the state much more attractive.

— Official News Release, Senator Hoeven —

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Senator John Hoeven today joined Grand Sky and the Harris Corporation in announcing a new Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Super Corridor in the Red River Valley. The corridor will enable unmanned aircraft, both large and small, to fly beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) of their operators and without a chase plane throughout approximately 100 miles of the valley. It comes as the result of key technologies and authorizations that Hoeven has worked to secure in recent years.

The announcement comes as part of two roundtables Hoeven hosted today with top officials from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) at the University of North Dakota (UND) and Grand Sky. The senator brought the officials to Grand Forks to highlight the region’s unique UAS ecosystem as well as the progress being made under the FAA’s partnerships with the state, including its Integration Pilot Program (IPP) and Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) pilot program. Hoeven is leveraging today’s visit to build on these efforts and advance statewide coverage for BVLOS operations for unmanned aircraft. The officials Hoeven hosted include:

  • Jay Merkle, the head of the FAA UAS Integration Office.
  • Angela Stubblefield, the FAA Deputy Associate Administrator who is responsible for UAS security and counter-UAS policy.
  • Tim Arel, Deputy Chief Operating Officer of FAA’s Air Traffic Organization. 

“The UAS Super Corridor creates an airspace for UAS in our state that is unmatched across the globe in terms of size and complexity,”said Hoeven. “We’ve worked hard to bring together all of the pieces that were needed for this level of UAS operations. Further, having the head of the FAA Integration Office here, among others, really helps drive home the amount of progress we’ve achieved in our partnerships with the federal government. Today’s roundtables were an opportunity to strengthen those collaborations, ensuring that the FAA is responsive to our industry partners and the test site as well as bolstering ongoing efforts to provide statewide coverage for UAS operations.”

Grand Sky UAS Super Corridor

Hoeven worked to advance the following priorities that made the UAS Super Corridor possible:

  • The DASR-11 radar system at the Grand Forks Air Force Base (GFAFB).
    • Hoeven provided funding for the radar upgrade through the Senate Appropriations Committee.
    • The radar supports unmanned aircraft up to 18,000 feet and out to 60 miles from the base.
  • The partnership of the Air Force, Grand Forks County and Grand Sky.
    • Grand Sky is adjacent to the air base and operates under an enhanced use lease and joint use agreement for the base’s runway, both of which Hoeven helped secure.
  • The HubNet system being developed by Harris and the University of North Dakota (UND). 
    • This aligns with UND’s role as co-lead of the FAA Center of Excellence for UAS research and development.
    • The system relies on commercially-available radar, Harris’ Xtend sensors and a series of radio relays to support smaller aircraft up to several thousand feet and out to 30 miles from Hillsboro.
  • The Northern Plains UAS Test Site’s BVLOS authorization.
    • The test site was created through legislation Hoeven authored and passed in 2012.
    • Hoeven secured the BVLOS authorization in 2018.
  • The FAA’s Integration Pilot Program.
    • Hoeven worked with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chaoand the FAA to launch the IPP and ensure the North Dakota Department of Transportation was selected.

The UAS Super Corridor, which will operate under the test site’s BVLOS authorization, marries the DASR-11 radar system and HubNet with data feeds from other sensors on unmanned aircraft to provide a combined aircraft control and airspace surveillance system. As a result, UAS operators under the corridor will have access to aviation-grade displays that enable them to monitor the surrounding airspace while also piloting their aircraft.

Josh Wolsky

Developer & Writer @TheMinot Voice, Fan of the Souris River, SavorMinot Advocate. Fortunate to be a 'former' City Council member ;)

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