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Published February 08, 2012, 10:12 PM

UAS Test Sites Pass House and Senate

The U.S. Senate has passed a long-term Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill that includes unmanned aircraft test sites. And legislative leaders say it's good news for North Dakota.

The U.S. Senate has passed a long-term Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill that includes unmanned aircraft test sites. And legislative leaders say it's good news for North Dakota.

North Dakota leaders have been working to make a case for UAS testing in North Dakota. Senators Kent Conrad and John Hoeven added the test sites in an amendment to the Senate bill.

It calls for the FAA to work with the military to integrate unmanned aircraft into the national airspace.

"We are requiring that the FAA move forward with six test sites across the county where we have concurrent airspace use, meaning we fly manned and unmanned aircraft in the same airspace in our country," North Dakota Senator John Hoeven said.

The Grand Forks region is working hard to be named one of those six test sites.

"We've lobbied hard in Washington. We've had contacts with the FAA. We feel we are at the forefront of that selection process. But it's one of those things you never know, you always keep pushing," Bruce Smith, University of North Dakota Dean of John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, said.

The UAS mission at the Grand Forks Air Force Base and the UAS programs at UND have helped the industry grow and flourish in the region.

"We think Grand Forks is the forerunner in the test site. Again, I mention that North Dakota is the only place where all of the elements for success of an unmanned aircraft test site exist," Smith said.

Part of the legislation calls for the test sites to be diverse in geography and climate, and have existing ground infrastructure. Requirements that Hoeven says bolster North Dakota's case to host one of the test sites.

"And we're doing everything we can to make sure that the Grand Forks region is one of those key sites," Sen. Hoeven said.

"We have low population density, we have open airspace, we have good weather, we have a Northern border proximity, we have a lot of things that other states don't have that are part of the key elements to making that successful," Smith said.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed similar legislation last week. North Dakota Representative Rick Berg's office said he contributed language that called for the test sites as well.

The FAA bill also ensures the continuation of the Essential Air Service program that supports rural airports.

The legislation now goes to President Obama for his signature.

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