North Dakota blogger, and pilot, Julie Neidliner has a lengthy and detailed post about the impact on state air space of the drone research program moving in at the University of North Dakota.
To date most of the concerns about drones have focused, understandably, on privacy concerns. But as a pilot, Neidlinger has a different perspective, pointing out that the drone research area is going to severely limit airspace available to pilots in the state in order to make room to fly drones as a part of the research projects at the University of North Dakota and the Grand Forks Air Force Base.
To illustrate, here’s the Devils Lake Restricted Area Complex pre-2012 (circled in red):
Here’s the area now:
From the post:
The FAA and various aviation groups are working to find a way to integrate drones into regular airspace without airspace restriction. While this would be a positive solution, the Air Force and National Guard decided they didn’t want to wait for that to happen. So, they requested blocks of restricted airspace to fly their drones.
They were told by the FAA that they could not have restricted airspace strictly for drones. To get around that, they claimed the drones contain a laser that is harmful to human eyes. Therefore, they pushed through restricted airspace based on a “safety issue” regarding lasers. However, they have all but admitted that they will be using this airspace for drone training and purposes that have nothing to do with this laser.
In addition to this expansion of air space, there is also a “path” from the Grand Forks Air Force Base to the restricted air space (so they can fly the drones back and forth) as well as a move to expand the size of the restricted air space over the air base itself.
“Many pilots, myself included, are going to one thing: avoid the area entirely,” writes Neidlinger. “This hurts the airports located there, their local economies, and wastes time, money and gas. Those, however, are minor in light of what ended up being some sort of military version of eminent domain of the public’s airspace. They wanted it. They took it.”
Be sure to read the entire post.
There is a lot of political pressure behind implementing this drone program in the state. Senator John Hoeven has worked hard for it, and both Senator Heidi Heitkamp and Rep. Kevin Cramer have expressed support for it (though Cramer has expressed misgivings about the privacy aspects of the drones). Grand Forks-area legislators and UND boosters, up to and including the Grand Forks-based media, are also enthusiastic.
But in the process, privacy advocates and other interests such as the pilots are getting steamrolled.
That’s not right.
Update: A reader emails:
In light of your drone post, I had to share this with you. I was flying my airplane from Fargo to Bismarck on February 19. Attached is the “Law Enforcement” flight restriction for February 21 that showed up on my GPS. It is very common to see “Law Enforcement TFRs” pop up flying across ND.
Please don’t use my name if you use this at all. This just underscores what is going on in our airspace
Here the picture: