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FAA designates Rome’s Griffiss Airport to operate drone-testing sites in New York, Massachusetts

By Eric Reinhardt


ROME — The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Monday announced that Rome’s Griffiss International Airport will lead an alliance of organizations in New York and Massachusetts in operating one of six test sites in the U.S. for the development of unmanned-aircraft systems (UAS).

UAS are also referred to as drones.

Test sites will work with the FAA to develop standards for the safe integration of drones into the nation’s airspace, the administration said in a news release.

In addition to New York, the FAA also chose sites in Alaska, Nevada, North Dakota, Texas, and Virginia, according to its website.

Griffiss International Airport, which Oneida County operates, will direct drone test-site operations in New York and Massachusetts.

Griffiss Airport has partnered with the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance (NUAIR), a consortium of public entities, private industry, and academic institutions in both states, to conduct drone testing, research, and development, the FAA said.

The FAA made the announcement in a joint news release with NUAIR, CenterState CEO, and MassDevelopment, a finance and development agency in Massachusetts.

 Syracuse–based CenterState CEO is the primary economic-development organization and chamber of commerce serving a 12-county region of Central New York.

CenterState CEO and MassDevelopment lead NUAIR, the FAA said.

Under their leadership, industry experts and academic institutions in both states formed NUAIR and combined assets, expertise and experience to compete for a FAA-designated drone-testing site.

As a test-site operator, the Griffiss-NUAIR team will coordinate drone-test flights and collect and analyze data to develop safety, performance, and certification standards for integrating unmanned systems into national airspace and for civilian use.

The FAA chose the Griffiss-NUAIR team from 25 applicants around the U.S. to operate one of the test sites.

New York and Massachusetts offer “premier” locations for drone testing due to the availability of airspace, weather, landscape diversity, and concentration of industry and academic expertise, the FAA said.

Both states combined have access to more than 7,000 square miles of restricted and special-use airspace for a wide range of drone-testing operations.

The FAA will anchor testing facilities at Griffiss and Joint Base Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

The FAA’s designation of New York and Massachusetts as a UAS test site recognizes the “tremendous” expertise and assets the region offers to this “rapidly growing” industry, Robert Simpson, chairman of NUAIR and president of CenterState CEO, said in the news release. 

“The NUAIR team has assembled an unparalleled group of industry and academic partners and physical assets, aligning them with some of the nation’s most diverse and ideal airspace for testing.  This effort has benefitted tremendously from the leadership of Sen. [Charles] Schumer [D–N.Y.] and the entire New York and Massachusetts delegations,” Simpson said.

Organizations partnering with Griffiss and NUAIR include Saab Sensis, a DeWitt–based firm that focuses on air defense, air-traffic control, airline and airport-operations management systems;  SRC, Inc., a Cicero–based nonprofit research and development company serving the defense, environment, and intelligence sectors; Waltham, Mass.–based Raytheon Co., a defense contractor; and Bethesda, Md.–based Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE: LMT), the nation’s largest defense contractor that operates a location in Salina, the FAA said.

In addition, partnering colleges and universities include Syracuse University, Clarkson University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Northeastern University, among others, the administration added.

One industry group applauded Monday’s announcement.

The test sites will play a “key role” in the development of the industry, and to the economic development of Central New York, Lawrence Brinker, president of the Empire State Chapter of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), said in the statement. 

“We are extremely pleased that the FAA has chosen New York for the testing of unmanned systems.  Testing is vital to understanding the full breadth of capabilities of these systems, which have potential for saving time, money, and most importantly, lives.  They will be invaluable for disaster relief, scientific research, emergency response, commercial operations and more” Brinker said. 


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