New FAA waiver allows more companies to fly drones in North Dakota

Published: Mar. 30, 2023 at 12:32 PM CDT
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GRAND FORKS, N.D. (KUMV) - The unmanned aerial system (UAS) industry is booming in North Dakota, and the Northern Plains UAS Test Site has been working with the Federal Aviation Administration to make sure the state remains competitive with the rest of the nation. They say a newly announced FAA waiver will be able to bring in more drone companies to the state.

You could see more drones in northeastern North Dakota this summer thanks to the Federal Aviation Administration. They approved a new waiver that will allow companies without a public designation to fly around the Northern Plains UAS Test site.

“It makes the test site more accessible to industry and it lets us do more things with that approval than what we have been allowed to do under previous regulations,” said Trevor Woods, Executive Director of the Northern Plains UAS Test Site.

Currently, the FAA requires all drones to be designated as public aircraft, which restricts companies from building up a safety record. Senator John Hoeven, R-ND, who worked with the FAA on this waiver, says this will make North Dakota a prime location for interested operators.

“This is a big step forward for our UAS Test Site because now companies can come from around the country and fly their aircraft at our test site,” said Hoeven.

Establishing a safety record is vital for these companies to earn approval from the FAA to fly beyond their visual line of sight (BVLOS). That allows them to fly in more areas like Williams and McKenzie Counties.

“We need to have more robust technology and the only way to get there is to continue to fly, continue to operate, and the best place to do that is right here in North Dakota,” said Woods.

As the test site prepares for more operators near Grand Forks, Woods said they also expect to continue testing Vantis, a planned statewide BVLOS network currently set up in northwest North Dakota.

Woods said winter weather conditions have slowed down their work, but they are eager to get out and fly.