- Associated Press - Thursday, March 27, 2014

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - The heads of the Federal Aviation Administration and the federal Transportation Department are scheduled to come to North Dakota next month.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta will stop in Grand Forks April 21 to review North Dakota’s growing unmanned aircraft industry. He will then go to Williston to get a firsthand look at airport infrastructure needs in the western oil patch, according to the state’s congressional delegation.

The FAA late last year named North Dakota as one of six states that will be test sites for integrating drones into civilian airspace. Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said in statements that they want Huerta to see the work the state is doing to build the drone industry.

North Dakota leaders have touted educational programs at the University of North Dakota, North Dakota State and nearby Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls, Minn., as well as the unmanned aircraft mission at Grand Forks Air Force Base. Gov. Jack Dalrymple says the state has invested more than $14 million in unmanned aircraft research and development.

Hoeven and Heitkamp said they also want Huerta to see “the conditions on the ground” at Williston, the rapidly growing oil patch hub. The city is the fastest-growing micropolitan area in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A micropolitan area has between 10,000 and 49,999 people. Passenger boardings at the Williston airport in 2013 were up 152 percent from the previous year, according to the state Aeronautics Commission.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is to come to Casselton on April 24 to meet with local leaders and update the community on efforts to improve rail safety. A Dec. 30 BNSF Railway oil train derailment on the outskirts of Casselton didn’t hurt anyone, but it sparked explosions and a fire that sent a smoke plume over the city and prompted about 1,400 people to evacuate their homes.

The derailment highlighted worries about shipping crude by rail and led to a Transportation Department safety alert warning about the potential high volatility of crude from the rich oil fields of western North Dakota and eastern Montana.

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