Now that it should be easier to get authorization to fly drones in the region, progress may be swifter in coming.

Devils Lake Airport has been selected along with 49 other airports around the country to participate in a program that will allow them to receive automated authorization to fly drones in controlled airspace.

Normally, byzantine FAA rules often lead to months-long wait times to fly drones - also known as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) - limiting opportunities for training and other potential applications.

The fact that Grand Sky, which bills itself as “America's first UAS business & aviation park” is about 70 miles east of Devils Lake, along with the presence of Camp Grafton just south of the city, has prompted local leaders to explore ways for the Lake Region to participate in the burgeoning industry.

The regular Forward Devils Lake executive meeting featured some discussion of the opportunity for the region to enter into the drone business, as airport manager John Nord and FDL executive director Rachel Lindstrom both spoke on the issue.

Lindstrom provided further details about the city’s moves toward incorporating drones into the city’s business infrastructure after the meeting.

“We’ve been attending Drone Biz (a conference regarding drones and potential business applications) in Grand Forks on a monthly basis,” Lindstrom said. “We’ve established a UAV task force here in our community which includes the college, Camp Grafton, Devils Lake Airport and Forward Devils Lake.”

Now that it should be easier to get authorization to fly drones in the region, progress may be swifter in coming.

Lindstrom says that FDL’s goal is to draw attention to the region’s interest in the industry.

“We’re trying to get in a position to make ourselves noticed in the industry,” Lindstrom said. “We want to make everyone aware that Devils Lake is really interested in this industry, and we have industrial parkland available for development and commercial space at the airport. I think we’re in a good position.”

Though FAA regulations concerning drone use in controlled airspace are easing at Devils Lake Airport and others, FDL board vice president Renard Bergstrom pointed out liability and other issues concerning commercial drone use, including drone flight over private property.

In addition to regulatory and liability hurdles, costs associated with drones, combined with relatively few specifics on how the local economy may benefit from increased drone use, means that return on investment questions are all but certain to come up in future discussions.

FDL plans to have a booth at the UAS Summit and Expo being held Aug. 21-23 at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks.