New York’s Drone Test Site Approved for Expanded Flights

New York ranks 36th on the list of US states deemed ready to expand their drone industry, according to the Virginia-based Mercatus Center which ranks all 50 states annually.  So it is surprising, perhaps, that the Empire State has the privilege of serving as one of just seven sites approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to conduct advanced flight testing of drones.  At the time it was approved, back in 2013-2014,  fears about drones filling the skies and invading the privacy of businesses and homes were being raised in statehouses and at the federal government level.  In response, the FAA felt compelled to demonstrate that federal regulatory action was pending and that drone flight capabilities were being rigorously monitored.  New York, thanks in part to heavy lobbying by state government officials amid fierce competition, earned a spot on a list, while other applicants like California, home to some of the nation’s leading drone manufacturers as well as secure military bases, did not.

New York’s drone test site is unusual for two reasons.  First, it’s located in a small town, Rome, NY (pop. 32,000), more than 250 miles from Manhattan, and not near a major military installation, as FAA test sites in North Dakota and elsewhere are.  Second, the site is managed by a nonprofit, the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance, Inc. or NUAIR.  NUAIR was founded with the help of Lockheed-Martin Corporation, which gives it a foothold in the aviation industry but is not itself a business or governmental operation.  However, NUAIR does seek to bring together business stakeholders, especially new technology companies, with a vested interest in drone development.  The test site takes advantage of the runways and facilities at Griffiss International Airport and receives tax and infrastructure support from the Oneida County government.

Last month, NUAIR & Co. achieved a major breakthrough when the FAA approved the use of the site to test Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drone operations for flights from Rome to Syracuse, NY, a distance of 50 miles.  Rome/NUAIR had previously been approved for BVLOS test flights, but only on a limited and highly monitored basis.  The latest expansion is intended to test the feasibility of establishing an entire drone corridor or “highway” that would be regulated through a new Unmanned Aerial Traffic Management system, or UTM.

“This 50-mile corridor between Rome and Syracuse, New York, uniquely encompasses all the elements and infrastructure that are key for the commercialization of drone applications such as inspections of transportation and utility infrastructure, medical logistics, environmental conservation, and public safety operations,” said NUAIR CEO Ken Stewart.

It’s just the beginning for NUAIR.   Recently, the State of New York announced a $21 million grant to the facility for the purpose of creating an industrial hub to run the length of the 50-mile corridor as well as expanding the adoption of drone tech by all state agencies.  Even more auspicious is the announcement that NUAIR is working on a partnership with the Canada-based firm VPorts to create a separate transnational drone corridor linking Syracuse International Airport and Quebec province to facilitate the transport of commercial cargo flown by unmanned helicopters.  This is an unprecedented development that will have major spillover effects within both countries and will likely establish New York as one of our nation’s leaders in drone infrastructure and technology development – with a Mercatus ranking in the top 10.

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