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Published December 30, 2013, 10:16 AM

North Dakota political leaders laud drone test site decision

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's designation as one of six unmanned aircraft test sites should attract new technology companies, students and others to the area, the state's political leaders said Monday.

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's designation as one of six unmanned aircraft test sites should attract new technology companies, students and others to the area, the state's political leaders said Monday.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced North Dakota was among six states selected to research integrating drones into the civilian airspace. The other sites are in Alaska, Nevada, New York, Texas and Virginia.

Republican Sen. John Hoeven said the site makes North Dakota "the premier northern hub for unmanned aerial systems" and should boost the development of Grand Sky, a new aerospace and business complex on the Grand Forks Air Force Base.

"This was critical," Hoeven said of the designation. "Because how can we be one of the premier centers for unmanned aircraft development if we can't fly the aircraft here? Furthermore, with uncongested airspace like we have, this becomes the place to do it and to really develop it."

Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer cited the cooperation during the selection process among community leaders, the University of North Dakota, and local, state and federal officials from North Dakota and Minnesota.

"The test site will help grow the UAS industry throughout the nation and help make sure it can become a key part of North Dakota's economy," Heitkamp said. "Grand Forks is very deserving of this program."

The congressional delegation said the area's assets include educational programs at UND, North Dakota State and nearby Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls, Minn., as well as the unmanned aircraft mission at the Grand Forks Air Force Base.

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple called the announcement "good news for our state and the entire nation."

Lawmakers earlier this year approved $5 million for the site, with $4 million contingent on the selection. Dalrymple said the state has invested more than $14 million in unmanned aircraft research and development.

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