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Sinner brings House Whip to Air Force base

GRAND FORKS — House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer received a peek into the present and future development of unmanned aircraft technologies during a Thursday tour of Grand Forks Air Force Base.

Hoyer, D-Maryland, was invited to North Dakota by Sen. George Sinner, D-Fargo, to hear updates on the base’s Global Hawk mission and the state’s unmanned aerial systems test site, one of six sites designated by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“It reminds you of how important the mission is and what the future is,” Sinner said of the tour. “The importance of (UAS), it’s just incredible.”

The test sites serve as means of researching the integration of unmanned aircraft into commercial airspace — an integration Congress has mandated be complete by Sept. 2015. They also serve as a platform to test potential uses of the aircraft.

Another test site overseen by Virginia Tech is part of a consortium that includes members in Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia. There is potential for a partnership between the test sites, according to Hoyer.

“Everybody believes this is going to be a tremendous growth industry and operation,” Hoyer said.

Estimates of the potential number of direct and indirect jobs created by the unmanned industry in North Dakota fall between 2,000 and 4,000 positions. Some argue that industry growth in North Dakota and other states has been stifled by the FAA prohibiting the commercial use of unmanned aircraft.

“I think the time has come to recognize how important this mission is and what we can do commercially with this,” Sinner said. “I think it’s time to lift the ban.”

He acknowledged there are privacy concerns surrounding UAS but said the advances that come with the technology are important to national security and development of industries.