The Federal Aviation Administration says the first of six sites planned to test what it’s calling “unmanned aircraft systems” is up and running.
The FAA says it granted the North Dakota Department of Commerce a Certificate of Authorization to start using a small drone at its Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site. Flight operations are expected to begin the week of May 5.
“North Dakota has really taken the lead in supporting the growing unmanned aircraft industry,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We look forward to the contributions they and the other test sites will make toward our efforts to ensure the safe and efficient integration of UAS into our nation’s skies.”
The main goal of this site’s initial operations is to show that UAS can check soil quality and the status of crops in support of North Dakota State University/Extension Service precision agriculture research studies. Precision agriculture is one of many industries that represent areas for significant economic opportunity and UAS-industry expansion.
While supporting the precision agriculture project, the Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site also will collect safety-related operational data needed for UAS airspace integration. The information will help the FAA analyze current processes for establishing small UAS airworthiness and system maturity. Maintenance data collected during site operations will support a prototype database for UAS maintenance and repair.
“These data will lay the groundwork for reducing risks and ensuring continued safe operations of UAS,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, who was in North Dakota today to announce the news. “We believe the test site programs will be extremely valuable to integrating unmanned aircraft and fostering America’s leadership in advancing this technology.”
The North Dakota COA covers two separate geographical locations. Initial flights will be conducted over North Dakota State University’s Carrington Research Extension Center located in Carrington, N.D. The second set of missions, scheduled for summer 2014, will fly over Sullys Hill National Game Preserve near Devils Lake, N.D.
The FAA selected six congressionally-mandated test sites on December 30, 2013.The FAA is working with the test sites to guide their research programs to help the FAA safely integrate UAS into the national airspace over the next several years.