[Avionics Today April 24, 2014] The North Dakota Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) research test site is now open for testing, and is the first of the six Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sites to begin officially operating.
North Dakota's Department of Commerce, however, has received a Certificate of Authorization (COA) from the FAA to begin using a Draganflyer X4ES UAS at the Northern Plains testing site. That site will begin flight operations in May.
"The advancement of technologies required to fly such sophisticated systems can only come from partnerships among research universities, like the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University; the federal and state agencies that will test and regulate UAV usage; and the industries that manufacture these exciting flight platforms," said UND President Robert Kelley.
Northern Plains will use the COA to collect safety related operational data needed for UAS airspace integration, while also supporting a precision agriculture project. The site's first operations will be aimed at testing the ability of UAS to check soil quality and the status of crops.
Agriculture is positioned to be one of the largest industries for commercial UAS operations, according to forecasts from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). The use of UAS for agriculture monitoring and surveillance activities is an area where the U.S. trails countries such as China, Australia and South Korea, where farmers have been using unmanned aircraft to monitor their crops for several years already.
“These data will lay the groundwork for reducing risks and ensuring continued safe operations of UAS,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “We believe the test site programs will be extremely valuable to integrating unmanned aircraft and fostering America’s leadership in advancing this technology,” said Huerta.