Drones Are Stealing North Dakota Air Space


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:


Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • Matthew Hawkins

    If this program is being funded by the Air Force than this is not about domestic drones. It is about military drones. This research has to be done someplace and ND has a low population density. While they should work on a solution for both drones and planes, I don’t see anything wrong with this.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Boy, you’re just a good little statist right down the line, aren’t you?

      • camsaure

        He is just Susan in pants, contrary in every possible way he can think of. Actually probably stemming from some anti social disorders. Think of the fits he would have if they were used to investigate subversives such as the Weather Underground and other radical socialist/marxist movements.

      • AV

        Pretty rich, you calling someone else a statist, aint it? Don’t you remember advocating that you want the state to meddle in the running of the universities.

    • http://loneprairie.net/ Julie R. Neidlinger

      I would really encourage you to read the full post, Matthew, if you haven’t. Would you have a problem with the military grabbing up land as they desired? This is a large chunk of airspace taken out of the system right in a the middle of common routes and victor airways between the cities of North Dakota. I cover more of the details of this, and another contentious airspace grab underway, that makes it appear this is going to be a new norm: we want it, we take it.

      The issue isn’t anti-drone research. It’s one of not taking airspace out of the system and finding a way to do drone research within the current system. It could be done. They didn’t want to. They just wanted to grab up more airspace, and aren’t likely done yet. Restricted airspace is rarely returned, so once it’s grabbed, it’s pretty much gone forever.

      • joe


        I wonder had you filed a flight plan? I presume if you had you would have been alerted to the restricted air space.


  • JoeMN

    Right in the middle of the eastern half of North Dakota, smack dab in
    the direct and common routes between several of the cities in the west
    to Grand Forks in the east, is a swath of airspace you can’t just
    happily fly through.


    It sure seems the location was selected for maximum convenience to the customs bureaucrats

  • DaveH63

    Julie is right. I just avoid these areas or find a way to fly around them. Really inconvenient. Burns extra fuel and waste of time. I can never fly directly to Fargo or at my desired altitude enroute to Fargo which is my most frequent destination.

  • Roy_Bean

    Are there limits on hobby type R/C airplanes? If I got one and it had a midair colission with a drone would I be liable or would they?

    • doober

      If an Air Force UAV is flying at the same altitude as your model airplane, they get what they get. I doubt you fly your model at 5k feet and above.

  • camsaure

    These restrictions also incude crop dusters, they are not even allowed to fly near GF airbase when the drones are out. And guess what? They always seem to want to fly them on the clear, still days. Shame on our politicians for allowing this.

  • RCND

    The correct thing to have done would be to put up a temporary restriction only on those days and only for the airspace blocks in which the drones will fly.

  • devilschild

    Great piece Julie. Thank you for taking the time to put it together and sharing it with us. See…now this is why I don’t read the GF Herald. They would never have the guts to report on this so thoroughly.

    • Dave

      You don’t have to read it….it gets re-hashed on this site everyday, with a little bonus opinion so you know how you should think.