Conrad urges FAA to move forward with next step in UAS operations

Kent Conrad

Kent Conrad

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 “critical importance” to North Dakota. Grand Forks Air Force Base is now a center of emerging missions, he said, and the surrounding region and UND have “rallied to seize the opportunity to stand at the vanguard of unmanned aviation.”

But Conrad said the process of integrating unmanned vehicles in the National Airspace “has taken far longer than initially planned,” and said Babbitt needs to “move forward expeditiously” to complete a plan.

“I am optimistic that a solution is at hand,” he wrote. “It 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.”

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 Dakota’s congressional delegation continues to meet with the FAA and the Air Force to find a solution for operating the aircraft in the state.

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