Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., is urging the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration to move ahead with a plan to integrate unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system.
In a Friday letter to J. Randolph Babbitt, Conrad said the issue of UAS integration is of â€œcritical importanceâ€ to North Dakota. Grand Forks Air Force Base is now a center of emerging missions, he said, and the surrounding region and UND have â€œrallied to seize the opportunity to stand at the vanguard of unmanned aviation.â€
But Conrad said the process of integrating unmanned vehicles in the National Airspace â€œhas taken far longer than initially planned,â€ and said Babbitt needs to â€œmove forward expeditiouslyâ€ to complete a plan.
â€œI am optimistic that a solution is at hand,â€ he wrote. â€œIt is not my place to prescribe what that solution will be, but I strongly believe in a vision that allows for UAS to transit from Grand Forks Air Force Base, operate in a restricted airspace environment and return home.â€
The FAA Reauthorization Act passed by the Senate this year includes a provision drafted by Conrad and former Sen. Byron Dorgan that would establish four UAS test sites and training centers across the nation, including possible sites in North Dakota.
North Dakotaâ€™s congressional delegation continues to meet with the FAA and the Air Force to find a solution for operating the aircraft in the state.