A Federal Aviation Administration program that works to integrate unmanned aerial systems into the national airspace, and in which North Dakota participates, is being made permanent.

The FAA’s Integration Pilot Program (IPP) will transition to a permanent program called BEYOND. The announcement came in an Oct. 30 press release from Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D. On Wednesday, Hoeven appeared remotely at the 14th annual UAS Summit with FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, who said he had an upcoming announcement about the state’s UAS industry.

Making the IPP program permanent will continue to allow North Dakota and other IPP locations across the country to continue research on flying drones beyond the visual line of sight, a necessary step in the path to integration.

In 2018, Hoeven worked with the FAA and U.S. Department of Transportation to launch the IPP, and he helped secure waivers for the Northern Plains UAS Test Site to conduct BVLOS drone flights. Additionally, Hoeven secured funding to upgrade radar systems at Grand Forks Air Force Base and Hector Field in Fargo, to support those operations.

The announcement of the new permanent program comes days after Nick Flom, director of the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, announced the founding of a statewide network for drone flights, called Vantis. The network will roll out in two counties in the western part of the state, before expanding to the east.

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“With our advanced radar and the Vantis network, as well as the operational authorities we secured for the test site and its partners, North Dakota is set to be the first in the nation to conduct statewide UAS flights without visual observers, and the transition we are starting today will enable us to build on the important progress achieved under the Integration Pilot Program,” said Hoeven in the release.

Continuing the work to integrate UAVs into the national airspace will grow economic opportunities and add jobs in the state, Hoeven said.

“We are grateful for Sen. Hoeven’s unwavering support for North Dakota with the FAA; it has been integral to achieving advanced BVLOS operations in the state with commercial partners like General Atomics and Xcel Energy,” said Flom, in the news release. “BEYOND is a continuation of those efforts to make North Dakota the nation’s UAS epicenter – and Vantis will be an incredible tool to leverage in support of the goals of the FAA and the BEYOND program.”