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First drone company receives approval for beyond-visual line-of-sight flights using North Dakota's system

The Federal Aviation Administration approved drone company uAvionix to conduct limited beyond-visual-line-of-sight drone flights in North Dakota using Vantis, North Dakota's UAS system.

Northern Plains UAS Test Site
Northern Plains UAS Test Site
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GRAND FORKS — The first drone company has been approved to conduct beyond-visual-line-of-sight drone flights using Vantis, North Dakota’s unmanned aircraft BVLOS system, marking a major milestone for the system, according to Trevor Woods, executive director of the Northern Plains UAS Test Site.

The Federal Aviation Administration, the agency that regulates aviation, approved drone company uAvionix to conduct BVLOS drone flights in North Dakota using Vantis after the company demonstrated to the FAA it established risk mitigation measures to meet safety standards for operation within the national airspace system, said a press release from Northern Plains UAS Test Site.

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“The Department of the Air Force deferred to the Department of the Treasury during the (CFIUS) review to assess potential risks associated with the proposed project,” the spokesperson said.

Northern Plains UAS Test Site, located in Grand Forks, administers Vantis. Thales USA, a technology company specializing in air traffic control, has partnered with the state of North Dakota to develop and implement Vantis.

Generally, the FAA requires unmanned aircraft like drones to be within the pilot’s visual line of sight at all times. Obtaining a permit to operate beyond the visual line of sight allows unmanned aircraft to be flown farther away from the pilot.

“I call it a very big technical milestone, but it is something that our team internally with the FAA should be really proud of because it’s taken a long time to get to this point,” said Woods. “But at a practical level, it’s but a step in the right direction.”

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trevor-woods.jpg
Trevor Woods, executive director of the Northern Plains UAS Test Site.
Contributed / Northern Plains UAS Test Site

Woods likened the FAA approval to a new driver getting a learner’s permit while learning to drive. While new drivers might have big ideas about where they plan to drive someday, most start with their parents, in a controlled environment like a parking lot.

uAvionix, using Vantis, received FAA approval because safety analyses, engineering documents and testing demonstrated an ability to safely fly unmanned aircraft beyond a pilot’s visual line of sight in rural western North Dakota, which is a very controlled environment, said Woods.

“We have a vision of having a road network across the whole state, but today we have a parking lot and we have a car and it allows us to drive around in the parking lot,” he said.

Though uAvionix is not the first drone company to be granted BVLOS privileges, it is the first to be granted approval using North Dakota’s system.

“This first-of-its-kind approval for our partners is a critical step that validates our state’s investment and years of work to bring UAS aircraft to commercial sectors in a safe and economic way,” said North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum in the press release. “Other states are reaching out to us as a national leader in UAS.”

“We are incredibly proud to lead the way in North Dakota with our partners from Vantis and Thales,” said Christian Ramsey, uAvionix president in the press release. “Being able to demonstrate much of our ecosystem in approved BVLOS flight is a major milestone for our company, our partners, and the broader aviation ecosystem.”

Future practical applications of BVLOS flight and Vantis include emergency response and agriculture, said Woods. For emergency response agencies with limited resources, sending an unmanned aircraft to survey a scene before sending first responders could save time and money. Farmers could save time by using unmanned aircraft to survey fields.

“That’s kind of the visionary, aspirational goal and we don’t know what that will be yet in the future, but that’s kind of why we do this and that’s the stuff I’m excited to see potentially come up by having this kind of technology available,” said Woods.

Related Topics: TECHNOLOGYDOUG BURGUM
Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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