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Published December 30, 2013, 10:30 AM

Grand Forks named one of FAA's six unmanned aerial systems test sites

Grand Forks will be one of six test sites for unmanned aerial systems, North Dakota’s congressional delegation announced Monday.

By: John Hageman, Forum News Service

Grand Forks will be one of six test sites for unmanned aerial systems, North Dakota’s congressional delegation announced Monday.

The Federal Aviation Administration is tasked with integrating UAS, commonly referred to as “drones,” into the national airspace alongside traditional aircraft by 2015. The six test sites will allow for safety procedures and policies to be developed before then.

The news is a major development for the state and local efforts to establish the state and Grand Forks as a hub for UAS development. The U.S. Air Force announced last month it intended to sign a lease with Grand Forks County to establish a UAS tech park at the Grand Forks Air Force Base. County commissioners chose a developer for the Grand Sky project in October.

“The selection of Grand Forks as a UAS test site is an affirmation that the Grand Forks area is an ideal location for military installations, and unmanned aerial systems in particular,” said U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., in a statement.

Local leaders expect UAS technology to be useful in precision agriculture, like identifying which crops need pesticide or water, and law enforcement. The technology made national headlines earlier this month when Amazon announced it wanted to deliver packages using small unmanned helicopters — though some derided that plan as infeasible and others said the announcement amounted to a publicity stunt.

Twenty-four states applied to receive the FAA’s designation.

“North Dakota’s UAS Team did an outstanding job highlighting the superior assets of the Grand Forks area,” U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. said in a statement. “In addition to the obvious advantages of uncongested air space, climate diversity and a culture of aviation, it is clear the unified voice of the many partners was a major factor in the FAA’s decision.”

This is a developing story. Check back for further updates.

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