Friday, October 30, 2020 - 12:35 pm

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao today announced that the North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) has been selected as one of eight participants in the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) BEYOND Program.

BEYOND is the next phase of the UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP), which will extend the federal program over the next four years. The pilot program was initially launched in 2017 to shape the future of UAS (drones) in America and enable agencies to work on policy to safely advance UAS operations, including beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), flights over people and night operations.

Over the past three years, nine state, local and tribal IPP participants and their industry partners have significantly helped to advance UAS integration with increasingly complex operations.

Selected as lead applicant for the IPP in 2018 and now the BEYOND program, NDDOT will continue to work with Northern Plains UAS Test Site (NPUASTS), as well as partners and stakeholders across the state to conduct research on how to safely integrate UAS into the National Airspace System.

“Today’s announcement continues to build on North Dakota’s status as the nation’s proving ground for UAS testing, training and commercialization,” Burgum said. “We’re grateful to Secretary Chao for again choosing the North Dakota Department of Transportation to participate in the next phase of this important project to safely incorporate UAS into the national airspace, shaping the future of UAS utilization in America and beyond.”

“From the Grand Sky research and development park to the nation’s first statewide BVLOS network in Vantis, North Dakota continues to invest in cutting-edge UAS technology and attract new companies and jobs to further diversify and strengthen our economy,” said Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, who chairs the Northern Plains UAS Authority.

Using innovative strategies, the IPP Lead Participants crafted successful safety cases to operate under the FAA’s existing regulations to conduct UAS operations that included package delivery, law enforcement support, infrastructure inspections, disaster damage assessments, agricultural applications and other missions. The data from these flights has informed ongoing rulemaking, policy and guidance and will continue to support future efforts.

“Our success in UAS research allows us to advance technology while keeping safety at the forefront,” said NDDOT Director Bill Panos. “We look forward to continue working in partnership with North Dakota UAS leaders and building a safer airspace while developing economic benefits for the state.

The FAA is working with all the original lead participants to continue this successful work with new focused efforts to tackle remaining UAS challenges such as BVLOS operations and societal and economic benefits through BEYOND. 

The UAS BEYOND program will focus on the steps necessary to facilitate scalable, repeatable and economically feasible BVLOS operations. This will involve leveraging Vantis, North Dakota’s statewide UAS network. This first-of-its-kind network will facilitate safe and efficient BVLOS flights, giving North Dakota expanded capacity for complex operations. Key site implementation for Vantis is already in progress, and as it is built out to cover the entire state, UAS BEYOND will inform that development.

“North Dakota’s participation in the IPP has allowed us to push the boundaries of what is possible in the UAS industry, but it’s also facilitated more widespread use of UAS by state agencies to improve our daily lives through things like flood monitoring and infrastructure inspections,” said Nicholas Flom, executive director of NPUASTS. “Vantis will extend those capabilities in the BEYOND program. Together, these initiatives position North Dakota as the nation’s UAS epicenter.”

The BEYOND program will focus on advancing UAS BVLOS operations by performing three mission types:

  • Infrastructure inspection,
  • Public safety operations, and
  • Small cargo/package delivery.

BEYOND is an opportunity for state, local and tribal governments to partner with private sector entities, such as UAS operators or manufacturers, to accelerate safe UAS integration. BEYOND is expected to foster a meaningful dialogue on the balance between local and national interests related to UAS integration and provide actionable information to the U.S. Department of Transportation regarding the expanded and universal integration of UAS into the National Airspace System.

About the North Dakota Department of Transportation

The North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) works on innovative technologies to help meet its mission to provide a transportation system that safely moves people and goods. The agency manages more than 8,624 roadway miles of highway and 1,725 state bridges, as well as provides driver’s license and motor vehicle services. Visit     

About the Northern Plains UAS Test Site

The Northern Plains UAS Test Site (NPUASTS) is one of seven Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) test sites in the nation. Its mission is to collaborate with FAA and industry partners to develop systems, rules, and procedures to safely integrate unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System without negatively impacting existing general or commercial aviation