North Dakota will participate in the Federal Aviation Administration's Unmanned Traffic Management Pilot Program, according to an announcement from U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Monday.
The Northern Plains UAS Test Site for drones and other unmanned aircraft in North Dakota is one of three sites involved in the program. Locations in Virginia and Nevada will also be involved.
The pilot program will last until September 2019, according to the FAA. Participating sites will help the FAA and the U.S. Department of Transportation develop a traffic management system to safely integrate drone flights with other aircraft in U.S. airspace, according to Chao.
Sites will work on improving how the U.S. manages the traffic of drones via flight planning, communications, aircraft separation and weather services.
North Dakota leaders applauded to Chao's announcement Tuesday. Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., said the program will keep the state on the "cutting edge" of developing drone technology.
"North Dakota has long nurtured drone innovation and is now cemented as a nationwide leader," Armstrong added. "This is good for North Dakota and the country."
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., called the news a "big deal."
"North Dakota has previously supported the development of these capabilities, so it only makes sense that our test site would be selected," Hoeven said.
Gov. Doug Burgum tweeted Tuesday, "Partnerships like this, combined with new state investments, will help us remain the nation's proving ground for drones."
U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said he plans to support the state’s UAS efforts from the Senate.
“The information we gain from this testing is necessary to ensure proper management of UAS in the national airspace,” Cramer said. “The entire UAS industry stands to benefit from the diligent work coming out of Grand Forks, and I plan to do my part in the Senate to continue this progress.”