The Tioga City Commission has approved a $30,000 loan to bring AeroFleet One, a drone company, to the city.
City representatives first met with people from AeroFleet One at a conference in Bismarck, and the company competed in last year’s Tioga Innovation Competition, which took place in August, according to Dennis Lindahl, Tioga Economic Development director. The competition, which was part of the city’s annual Drone Camp for Kids, was funded in part by the Williston Regional Economic Development Corporation.
The company operates unmanned aerial vehicles with a wingspan of 15 feet and can carry nearly 100 pounds and fly for nearly 6 hours. Originally designed to work in the agricultural sector, the drones can carry a variety of payloads, including cameras and sensors that can be used for the energy, oil and gas industry.
AeroFleet One didn’t win the innovation competition, but did pique the interest of city officials.
“We still wanted to work with (the company),” Lindahl said.
As part of the loan agreement the company, which is currently based in Ukraine and founded by former European Microsoft Executive Yuri Pederiy, will have a new division located in Tioga, establish local operations, train and hire pilots locally.
“(The loan is) a fair arrangement that will minimize risk for the new startup,” David Grubb, chairperson of the Tioga Fund, said.
Once the equipment arrives in Tioga there will be a process of FAA approval, test flights and considerations for Beyond Visual Line Of Sight operation, but the Tioga Economic Development Corporation expects that immediate ground operations and training will begin this spring.
In a news release, Lindahl wrote that Tioga Economic Development expects to meet the Tioga City Commission’s challenge to expand the “Drone Camp for Kids” beyond K-12 education by expanding into adult pilot training programs. That will foster the unmanned aerial systems industry in the area and provide new technology opportunities in the region.
“UAS presents a unique opportunity for western North Dakota that should be explored,” Chris Norgaard, president of the Tioga EDC and the Tioga Airport, said.
Tioga's third annual Drone Camp for Kids, a free program open to students in grades seven through 12, is scheduled for the first weekend in August.