BISMARCK - Drone aircraft can now be flown over people during safety testing in North Dakota, thanks to a four-year waiver granted by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation announced Tuesday, May 25, that it had been granted permission to operate Unmanned Aircraft Systems over people - a first for a North Dakota agency.

The drones being used are equipped with ParaZero SafeAir parachute recovery systems.

The FAA made the approval for the state’s UAS Integration Pilot Program. The program is helping the FAA create safety and security rules for UAS operations throughout the country.


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The DOT and the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in Grand Forks are working together with partners and stakeholders to make drone operations more safe and efficient, while finding more opportunities for growth.

Among the potential uses for drone aircraft are inspections of pipelines and other infrastructure, crash reconstruction, and to save lives in rural areas using their broad search capabilities.

The Northern Plains UAS Test Site is one of seven such sites in the nation.

Gov. Doug Burgum called the FAA’s decision “fantastic news for North Dakota.”

“This waiver acknowledges the excellent work that NDDOT and the Northern Plains UAS Test Site are doing with public and private partners to ensure that unmanned aircraft are safely integrated into the national airspace, at the same time attracting new technology, jobs and businesses to our state.”

The state Legislature in April approved $28 million for creating a statewide network that supports UAS flights beyond the visual line of sight, plus $2 million to support test site operations and $3 million to upgrade infrastructure at the Grand Sky business development park in Grand Forks. Altogether, the state has invested about $77 million in UAS research and development.