<< All News Wednesday, August 28, 2019 - 10:20 am

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – The North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) and the Northern Plains UAS Test Site (NPUASTS) facilitated successful UAS (drone) flights in an urban environment. These flights were operated by AirBus Aerial, and SkySkopes, with assistance from NPUASTS, to inspect Xcel Energy electric system infrastructure in Grand Forks.

Waivers allowing UAS operation in urban environments, beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), and over people were obtained by the NPUASTS and AirBus Aerial for this operation, leveraging existing radar infrastructure, including Echodyne’s EchoGuard Radar System, for detect and avoid capabilities. Detect and avoid refers to a UAS being able to detect obstacles in its flight path and avoid a collision.

“We’re excited to be participating in some of the most cutting-edge UAS test flights in the country. UAS flights in urban environments and over people are inherently riskier than rural flights over empty fields, but with the newest technological advancements, we can now run these tests safely.” said Russ Buchholz, NDDOT Strategy and Innovation Director of Transportation Systems. “Flights like these will allow for improved emergency response times, closer monitoring of natural disasters, and a safer, more effective means of inspecting critical infrastructure.”

This week’s flights over Xcel Energy infrastructure are a part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Integration Pilot Program (IPP), a pilot program aimed at testing ways to safely incorporate UAS into communities across the country. Recent successes of NDDOT and NPUASTS’s collaborative participation in this program include monitoring spring flooding conditions in the Red River Valley and assisting North Dakota Highway Patrol and the Burleigh County Sheriff’s Department in acquiring similar waivers for UAS flights in urban environments and over people.

“These test flights are integral to improving UAS technology and best practices so that drones can be integrated into communities safely and without disruption,” said Trevor Woods, UAS Safety Director for the NPUASTS. “UAS flights have the potential to dramatically improve quality of life within a community, and these are the first steps.”

About the Northern Plains UAS Test Site

The Northern Plains UAS Test Site is one of seven Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) UAS test sites in the nation. The mission of the NPUASTS is to collaborate with FAA and industry partners to develop systems, rules, and procedures to safely integrate unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System without negatively impacting existing general or commercial aviation.

About North Dakota Department of Transportation                                                                                                                                 

The North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT), established in 1917, is an innovative and progressive organization with the mission to safely move people and goods. NDDOT strives to build and maintain an efficient transportation system of more than 8,518 miles of roadway and 4,858 bridges. Innovation and integration of the UAS pilot program is key in expanding NDDOT’s future vision for traffic safety, autonomous technology and partnerships. For more information visit dot.nd.gov.


The Integration Pilot Program (IPP) and the recent UAS milestones achieved by the Northern Plains UAS Test Site and the North Dakota Department of Transportation will be discussed in greater detail today at the UAS Summit in Grand Forks, ND:

10:30 am – UAS Integration Pilot Program Breakthrough: Flying BVLOS Over Urban Areas At Night

After receiving a waiver for this flight operation that was years in the making, the Northern Plains UAS Test Site team and its partners have achieved a milestone moment in the history of the UAS industry and the UAS Integration Pilot Program: beyond visual line of sight flight over urban areas during the day or night.

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