Friday, November 30, 2018 - 11:30am

BISMARCK, N.D. – Highlighting how North Dakota is embracing technology to reinvent government, improve services for taxpayers and spur economic development, Gov. Doug Burgum today announced a $30 million proposal to build out infrastructure that would support beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) across North Dakota.

Burgum made the announcement during his remarks at the annual State of Technology Conference in Fargo hosted by U.S. Sen. John Hoeven and the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce. The proposal is part of his executive budget recommendation for the 2019-21 biennium, which he will submit to the state Legislature in his budget address at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5, in the House chamber at the state Capitol in Bismarck. Funding would come from earnings from the state’s Legacy Fund.

The investment would establish a statewide BVLOS network to enable UAS efficiencies for state agencies, local communities and the commercial sector, including automated farming and precision agriculture. It would supply the infrastructure required for the command and control of UAS and the required surveillance equipment to safely integrate manned and unmanned aircraft in the National Airspace System.

Subject matter experts within the state, including at the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in Grand Forks, would work with federal agencies to ensure regulatory compliance. The executive budget also will propose $3 million to upgrade infrastructure at Grand Sky and $3 million to support operations at the Northern Plains UAS Test Site.

“These investments will ensure that North Dakota remains America’s proving ground for UAS while also enabling commercial operations, which is good for our economy and taxpayers,” Burgum said. “We have gifted researchers, entrepreneurs and technology right here in North Dakota – as well as natural attributes such as open skies, variable climate, agriculture and energy – to diversify our economy and continue our trajectory as a national leader in UAS.”

Burgum credited Hoeven for being North Dakota’s lead champion for UAS research and development, from his groundbreaking efforts as governor through his ongoing advocacy in the U.S. Senate. North Dakota has invested over $44 million to advance UAS research and development, and the state currently has about 40 companies focused on UAS or that have UAS functions, products or relationships in their business models, according to the Department of Commerce. North Dakota has enjoyed several UAS milestones this year alone:

  • In May, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao selected North Dakota as one of only 10 sites nationwide to participate in the federal UAS Integration Pilot Program, with the North Dakota Department of Transportation leading the effort in partnership with the Northern Plains UAS Test Site and dozens of other partners.
  • In July, the first trans-Atlantic flight of a medium-altitude, long-endurance UAS flew from Grand Sky research park near Grand Forks to England – 3,760 nautical miles in 24 hours, 2 minutes.
  • In August, Grand Sky welcomed U.S. Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson to watch the first flight of a large UAS operating BVLOS without the use of a chase plane in controlled airspace.
  • In October, NDDOT and Northern Plains UAS Test Site along with their partners successfully completed their first public mission of the UAS Integration Pilot Program with a drone flight over a tailgating event at the Fargodome.

Burgum expressed his gratitude for the keynote speakers at this year’s State of Technology Conference, including Linda McMahon, administrator of the federal Small Business Administration (SBA), and Andrei Iancu, director of the U.S. Patent and Trade Office (USPTO). After the conference, the governor joined Hoeven, Iancu and other officials for a roundtable discussion at the North Dakota State University Research Park.