Hoeven applauds updated FAA waivers expanding drone flights in home state

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) commended recently approved waivers issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for North Dakota’s Integration Pilot Program (IPP) and Xcel Energy to expand their use of drones in the state. 

Specifically, the FAA waivers allow the North Dakota Highway Patrol, via the state’s IPP, and Xcel Energy to conduct a broader range of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) flights without a chase plane or other visual observers.

“This is a big win for #NDUAS & makes ND the location of choice for advanced UAS operations — leading the way toward full integration in the nat. Airspace,” Sen. Hoeven tweeted on Aug. 16.

Earlier this month, the lawmaker secured a commitment from the FAA to help provide certainty for beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) UAS operations in North Dakota by providing specific requirements and a timeline that would allow BVLOS operations to proceed on a routine basis.

The FAA issued the waivers to both the North Dakota Department of Transportation and N.D. Highway Patrol on June 20 and Aug. 7, respectively, and to Xcel Energy on Aug. 8.

The IPP waiver expands the ability of North Dakota to conduct BVLOS flights in urban environments and over human beings, while the Xcel Energy waiver lets the company conduct unmanned flights without a visual observer within 100 feet above and 20 feet laterally of its electric lines across eight states, including North Dakota.

Prior to issuing the new waivers, the FAA provided limited permission for BVLOS activities that likewise restricted the company and the state from advancing the safe integration of UAS into the national airspace.

“These updated waivers for the North Dakota IPP and Xcel Energy are a big win, and with them in place, companies across the country should recognize that our state is the location of choice for advanced UAS operations,” said Sen. Hoeven.

The waivers also strengthen federal, state and private partnerships, while enabling the testing and implementation of advanced technology for public, commercial, rural and urban applications, he said.

“That means our test site and pilot program can provide unmatched opportunities to demonstrate the benefits of unmanned aircraft, including cost-savings and safer working environments, while also helping to advance the technology’s full and safe integration into the national airspace,” Sen. Hoeven said.