Fans at this Saturday’s tailgating might have seen more than green and yellow flags above the Fargodome parking lot. The North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) flew unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), as commonly known as drones, over the fans and festivities at the last pre-game get-together. North Dakota was one of 10 selected for this integrated pilot program.
Russ Buchholz, the IT director and program administrator for the integrated pilot program for NDDOT, said the focus of the program is on media and emergency response. One of the UASs will be a used by CNN for media coverage, and the other will be used in case of emergency. Buchholz said the emergency response drone, flown by the Cass County sheriff, could be used “if we have a chemical disaster where we can’t get in there to see what’s going on.” The drone could be moved into place to get a firm grasp of the situation.
These UASs could also be used for bridge inspection, according to Buchholz. This would mitigate the risk to the public by eliminating the need for lane closure.
CNN will not only record video with a UAS, but they will also be live broadcasting through affiliate stations, according to Buchholz.
Buchholz stressed that the UASs will not be used for surveillance and that any drone that is not sanctioned by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is not allowed.
NDDOT had to get three waivers to be able to fly the two drones. The NDDOT will get the chance to fly over people and beyond the line of sight. Because the Fargodome is near Hector International Airport, there will be a restriction on how high the drones can fly. The FAA observed the operations.
UASs are the fastest growing aircraft, according to Buchholz. “We have to somehow control, maintain it and then create these new rules fast enough where we can make it safer for everyone, but also show the uses of what UASs can do.”
Two pilots will operate the UASs. One will be a visual observer, and the other will be the actual pilot up in a canopy, according to Buchholz.
The FAA reports almost 100 requests for UASs and that an estimated 1.6 million drones will be sold this year. Congress is considering a bill that would give law enforcement the ability to shoot down drones. United States Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said, “We need to acknowledge that our first and last chance to stop a malicious drone might be during its final approach to a target.”
Another bill that is expected to pass in Congress would restrict drone hobbyists. The bill would add a height restriction to existing regulation.