BVLOS Boost: ND invests $30M for statewide UAS operations

By Staff | May 01, 2019

The path to true, repeatable and commercial beyond visual line of sight flight is now running through a $30-million-plus unmanned aircraft systems infrastructure network set for the Silicon Valley of drones. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, along with the ND Department of Commerce, announced a $33 million investment in a first-of-its-kind BVLOS network, and other state-based UAS assets, during the country’s largest gathering of UAS manufacturers and technology companies in Chicago during the AUVSI XPONENTIAL 2019 conference. 

Following the announcement by the NDDOC and Nicholas Flom, executive director of the Northern Plains UAS Test site headquartered in Grand Forks, N.D., Flom and others spoke in length about the investment and what it will bring to North Dakota, but more importantly, the rest of the country as it pursues real BVLOS operations. According to Flom, the investment will require the help, partnership and participation of numerous UAS tech providers—from platform developers to communication providers to software firms and even end users—to fully realize the unique BVLOS network that will enable flights across the state once fully operational. 

In his prepared remarks on the investment announcement, Burgum said his state has once again sent a loud and clear signal that North Dakota is the nation’s premier providing grounds for UAS research, testing and commercialization. While several other states at the AUVSI had examples and accomplishments of previous work to expand and commercialize UAS operations in the National Airspace, no state matched the unique plan and dollar backing of North Dakota. “Our strong commitment to supporting UAS researchers, entrepreneurs and technology, combined with our open skies, four distinct seasons and industry sectors harnessing the potential of UAS through uses such as automated farming and precision agriculture, ensure North Dakota will continue to grow as a national leader in UAS. “ 

The state will rely on its large group of UAS experts to ensure the BVLOS network of radar, ground control stations and radio will be regulatory compliant. Of the $33 million, $28 million will go to BVLOS infrastructure, $3 million will help upgrade infrastructure at Grand Sky’s drone park and $2 million will support the NPUAS team. 

The new investment puts North Dakota’s UAS backing at more than $77 million to date. 

“We look forward to working closely with private industry and North Dakota stakeholders to keep us leaning into the future of UAS,” Flom said. 

Harris Corp. will help develop the infrastructure and several other UAS entities will help advance the system. The goal, according to James Leiman from the NDDOC, is to retain and attract drone companies of all sizes to use the system. The result, he said, could help create a system that can be used anywhere and push the entire UAS industry into a new era of use, something he said will benefit the entire U.S. 

To date, there have been only five true BVLOS flights or operations and of those operations several members involved in establishing North Dakota’s system were a part of the operations.