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UND gets federal OK to collect data with unmanned aircraft for commercial purposes

UND can now take pictures and video from unmanned aircraft for commercial use, but federal officials aren't ready to let the school to get into the business of unmanned flight training just yet.

UND can now take pictures and video from unmanned aircraft for commercial use, but federal officials aren't ready to let the school to get into the business of unmanned flight training just yet.

The university submitted a petition in August asking the Federal Aviation Administration to grant it permission to collect data using the aircraft, also known as drones, and conduct unmanned aircraft systems flight training.

As commercial operation of unmanned aircraft is prohibited, operators must receive an exemption-known as a Section 333 exemption-from the FAA in order to proceed legally.

A response letter dated Feb. 26 from John Duncan, director of the agency's Flight Standards Service, informed UND's John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences it has received authorization to collect data but not to offer commercial training services.

"At this time, the FAA is unable to authorize UAS operations for training until a further assessment is completed," Duncan wrote. "When the FAA completes its review, we will proceed accordingly, and no further action will be required by the petitioner."

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UND officials could not be reached for comment as of Friday.

An unmanned flight training program would mirror the school's manned flight training, UAS Program Director Al Palmer told the Herald in December, with students starting on simulators before moving on to flying actual aircraft.

Under the exemption, the school still can fly unmanned aircraft to collect imagery, take measurements and gather any other sort of data using instruments attached to the aircraft.

The exemption terms are similar to thousands of others granted by the FAA. UND's unmanned aircraft cannot fly above 400 feet above the ground, must remain 500 feet away from vehicles, structures and people not participating in the flight, and cannot operate at night or beyond the pilot's line of sight.

The university's commercial exemption is one of 3,900 that have been approved since the process began last year. More than a dozen companies saying they intend to fly in North Dakota have been granted an exemption by the FAA.

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