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Support for unmanned aircraft use varies by activity, study finds

GRAND FORKS — When it comes to unmanned aircraft buzzing through North Dakota skies, researchers at the University of North Dakota have found residents support some uses more than others in a new study.

While residents were overwhelmingly in support of using UAS for search and rescue purposes, uses such as delivering packages drew much more ire.

“Not terribly surprising, (there was) lots of support for using UAS for search and rescue,” research Cindy Juntunen said Tuesday. “The support for this category of activities was compelling.”

Juntunen and Thomasine Heitkamp, both members of the study’s research team, revealed these and other preliminary findings from a survey geared toward uncovering community perceptions about unmanned aircraft systems.

It’s the first comprehensive study of its kind in the United States, according to Heitkamp.

Nearly 650 participants from 16 northeast North Dakota counties were surveyed by researchers. Another 81 people contacted were not included in the survey because they were unfamiliar with terms such as “UAS,” “UAV” or “drone.”


While search and rescue received high support from study participants, others saw mixed reaction.

Law enforcement using UAS for activities such as finding traffic violations, monitoring traffic patterns and detecting illegal hunting and fishing were not supported as much as searching for suspects, monitoring a hostage situation or border patrol.

“Where people seem to have the most caution is around those observations of daily events and having that be connected to law enforcement,” Juntunen said.

Most types of agricultural, climate monitoring and military uses of unmanned aircraft received strong support from participants.

Commercial deliveries did not fare as well.

It was the only category of use that did not receive more support than opposition.

That section covered three types of deliveries: Packages, alcohol and take-out food.

Packages received the most support out of the three deliveries with about 40 percent in opposition. More than 80 percent of respondents opposed alcohol delivery and about 60 percent objected to fly-in take-out food.

“Cindy and I have speculated greatly about this,” Heitkamp said. “Delivery takes people closer to people’s homes. Delivery is something you pay for. Delivery is something you may not trust.”

More to come

The survey also analyzed residents’ areas of concern in regard to unmanned aircraft use.

The areas drawing the highest concerns were airspace safety and the safety of those on the ground.

When it comes to airspace safety, 44 percent of respondents were either concerned or extremely concerned. On-the-ground safety drew concerned or extremely concerned responses from 35 percent of participants.

Invasion of privacy came in near the bottom of participants’ worries with 72 percent saying it was not at all a concern or not a concern.

The findings released Tuesday were preliminary, and the research team will be analyzing study data further, according to Heitkamp.

Additional findings are expected to be released after Sept. 1.