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Kevin Bonham, Forum Communications Co., Published May 23 2012

North Dakota official: Red River Valley perfect for drone integration

GRAND FORKS – A decision may not come until December on whether North Dakota will become one of six federal test sites for the nation’s unmanned aircraft systems.

But campaign leaders are not in a holding pattern, John Walker, senior consultant with Systems Engineering and Technology, or SeaTec, and a member of the North Dakota Air Space Integration Team, told attendees Wednesday at the Sixth Annual UAS Action Summit at the Alerus Center.

“North Dakota speaks with one voice,” he said. “That’s a key milestone that has been developed over the past year. I cannot underscore the importance of what that means on a national basis.”

He noted some of the resources in the state and Red River Valley: UND’s UAS undergraduate degree program, the first in the country, and its UAS Center of Excellence, which includes training at Grand Forks Air Force Base; a UAS maintenance technician program at Northland Community and Technical School in Thief River Falls, Minn., and a statewide commitment to civil and commercial UAS development.

North Dakota, he said, has several other key elements: uncongested airspace, climate diversity, low population density plus a history and culture of aviation safety.

The message was well received, coming on the heels of an address by James Williams, executive manager of the Federal Aviation Administration’s UAS Integration Office. Earlier this year, government officials had indicated the test sites could be determined as early as September.

The integration office is developing a five-year roadmap for UAS integration into the National Airspace System, he said, and some early deadlines toward that goal must be met by fall.

“Our mission is the safe, efficient and timely integration of UAS into the airspace,” said Williams, who started his new job in March.

A large part of his job, he said, is making sure small aircraft, even some perhaps small enough to fit in a shoe box, has a place in that UAS integration.

However, the FAA faces several critical UAS integration issues or challenges in meeting deadlines established by the National Defense Authorization Act and the 2012 FAA reauthorization bill. They include:


Bonham writes for the Grand Forks Herald


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