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FAA approves beyond line-of-sight testing on part of drone corridor between Rome and Syracuse

By Eric Reinhardt

Date:

Personnel testing drones during the winter months. (Photo credit: NUAIR website)

ROME, N.Y. — The New York unmanned-aircraft system (UAS) test site at Griffiss International Airport in Rome now has the authority to fly drones beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS).

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave its approval for BVLOS testing, the office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Thursday.

The authorization covers the area within the first segment of New York’s 50-mile UAS corridor that Oneida County, NUAIR, and New York State are building.

Syracuse–based NUAIR is short for Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research. The nonprofit focuses on UAS operations, aeronautical research, safety management, and consulting services.

A UAS includes a drone and equipment used to control its flight. A drone is also referred to in the industry as an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV.

This is the first “true” BVLOS authority granted to the FAA-designated test site, which allows unmanned aircraft testing “without the need for ground-based observers,” Cuomo’s office said.

Current FAA drone regulations require operators to keep their drones in line of sight unless they have approval from the FAA. To date, NUAIR and the New York UAS test site have conducted more than 2,500 test flights but required multiple people in the field to have a visual line of sight for the aircraft.

By receiving “true” BVLOS flight approval, the UAS test site will “no longer require” those observers in the field as NUAIR and the test site have proven to the FAA that the “proper safety measures and technologies are in place” to fly unmanned aircraft beyond line of sight safely, Cuomo’s office said.

“The ability to fly with this new authority will help develop and advance many aspects of an air-traffic management system for unmanned aircraft,” Michael Hertzendorf, CEO of NUAIR, said. “In order for us to fully employ, operate and unlock the true potential of unmanned systems and achieve a reality where drones are conducting routine missions such as inspecting power lines, protecting critical infrastructure, or delivering medical supplies, we need to ensure the proper safety elements are in place. This authority greatly enhances our ability to test towards that end state.”

The announcement builds on a $30 million state investment that Cuomo announced in November 2016 to advance the “growing” UAS industry as part of Cuomo’s CNY Rising initiative.

The eight-by-four-mile section of airspace that was approved for these flights is situated between Griffiss International Airport and the New York State Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services State Preparedness Training Center in Oriskany. The “strategic” selection of this airspace within the drone corridor “opens the door for future advancements of the corridor” and the continued cooperation between NUAIR, the test site, and New York State agencies, Cuomo’s office said.

“This is a huge milestone for NUAIR, the test site, and the continued development of New York’s 50-mile UAS corridor between Rome and Syracuse,” Tony Basile, COO at NUAIR, said. “With a crawl, walk, run mentality of UAS advancement, having the ability to fly beyond visual line of sight within a limited area moves us into the ‘walk’ category, which will lead us to ‘running’ in a fully operational BVLOS 50-mile UAS corridor in the near future.”

The designation process for the beyond visual line of sight testing took about 14 months. NUAIR and the New York UAS test site say they were able to receive this BVLOS approval by “showcasing the vast amount” of high-tech equipment and safety technologies that have been established along with the flight data from over 2,500 UAS test flights they’ve conducted since operations began in 2015.

Contact Reinhardt at ereinhardt@cnybj.com