UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

FAA reauthorization adds power to UND’s UAS programs

Coming soon: More research/workforce opportunities for students, free UAS courses for first responders

people flying a drone
Attendees of the first ASSUREd Safe training program conduct flight tests outside UND’s Ryan Hall, in July 2023. Adam Kurtz/UND Today.

The recent reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration means full speed ahead for uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) and advanced and urban air-mobility research (AAM/UAM) at UND. It also means more opportunities for UAS graduates as well as free training for first responders on UAS operations.

Signed in mid-May by President Joe Biden, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2024, has, among its many other components, extended the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE) program. Along with 28 other leading research universities, UND is a Core Partner in the ASSURE program, which is housed within the FAA’s Center of Excellence for UAS programs. ASSURE is also comprised of more than 100 leading industry and government partners.

The extension of ASSURE marks a significant step forward in driving industry collaboration and innovation in the UAS industry, UND Aerospace faculty and administrators say. ASSURE is driven by research to safely integrate UAS into the National Airspace System (NAS) and beyond. It also presents significant student research and workforce opportunities, and makes available free credentialing courses for first responders. The list and dates of those courses can be found below.

“It has been an extraordinary honor to help lead the ASSURE initiative at UND, fostering collaboration among more than 20 distinguished universities nationwide,” said Paul Snyder, director of UAS Operations and lead for autonomous platforms at UND. “ASSURE has been instrumental in harnessing the collective knowledge and experience of academia, industry and government, paving the way for the incorporation of uncrewed and autonomous aircraft into our national airspace.

“The progress we’ve made is just the beginning. I am excited to see the groundbreaking advancements ASSURE will unveil in the coming years.”

At UND, more than a dozen ASSURE research projects are being carried out by scholars, with more expected to be added in the future. Those projects are largely overseen by Snyder; Mark Askelson, associate vice president for Research and Economic Development; Jim Higgins, professor of Aviation; and Jeremiah Neubert, professor of Mechanical Engineering. Among several others, these projects include:

  • Multiple projects on UAS right-of-way rules, and technology to detect and avoid collisions.
  • Conducting risk management analysis on the detect-and-avoid systems used by sUAS (small uncrewed aircraft systems).
  • Evaluating technology and systems that will let UAS integrate into the national airspace system.

The ASSURE projects also offer opportunities for UND undergraduate and graduate students to conduct research, in an area that is expected to see continued growth. That means many more workforce opportunities for graduates of UND’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations program.

Moreover, the cutting-edge research being conducted at UND will continue to provide solutions for more and more commercial uses of UAS to be approved by the FAA, which also will lead to more demand for graduates over the next 10 years, Snyder said.

In short, “UAS is an exciting place to start a career,” he said.

“ASSURE research extends its benefits beyond the users of the national airspace system, by offering our students invaluable engagement in diverse research endeavors,” he said. “Several of our undergraduate and graduate students have been able to be directly involved in this research. It’s a great opportunity that provides hands-on experience for our students.”

Extending ASSURE also empowers UND faculty to integrate cutting-edge discoveries into their curriculum, Snyder noted. Doing so enriches the educational experience with the latest insights from ongoing research.

UAS Operations training for first responders

In addition to extending ASSURE, the Reauthorization Act has also established a national credentialing program for first responders, known as ASSUREd Safe. In July 2023, UND conducted its first two-day training session for first responders across the state.

The idea is to create a UAS operations standard for first responders, should different groups be called to work together in an emergency situation, such as a natural disaster. The training program came at no cost to training participants, as the program was fully funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The audience for the four courses offered this summer include Emergency Management, Fire Service, Law Enforcement, Emergency Medical Service and Search and Rescue officials.

The UND training sessions will take place on the dates listed immediately below, and slots are still available. First responders and emergency management can register online at assuredsafe.org/course-catalog.The free courses include:

  • June 4-5, Flight Operations and Data Analytics – Level I. This 1-day course prepares first responders with technical resources, knowledge, and experience to deploy UAS for a variety of emergency response scenarios.
  • June 6-7, Flight Operations and Data Analytics – Level II. This 1-day course expands first responders’ abilities to prepare, plan, and execute UAS mission for infrastructure inspection & area mapping.
  • July 16-17, Flight Operations and Data Analytics – Level I.
  • July 18-19, Flight Operations and Data Analytics – Level II.
  • August 13-14, Flight Ops and Data Analytics – Level I.
  • August 15-16, Flight Ops and Data Analytics – Level II.