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FAA selects drone test site in Rome to take part in next phase of drone-integration program

By Eric Reinhardt (


ROME, N.Y. — The New York UAS test site at Griffiss International Airport in Rome is one of two sites that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has selected for the second phase the unmanned aircraft-traffic management pilot program (UPP).

Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership in Blacksburg, Virginia is the other, NUAIR said in a news release.

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.

NUAIR says the New York UAS test site at Griffiss International Airport in Rome is one of two sites that the Federal Aviation Administration has selected for the second phase the unmanned aircraft traffic-management pilot program (UPP). (Photo provided by NUAIR)

The second phase of UPP will showcase capabilities and services that support high-density unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or drone operations, including remote identification services and public safety operations. Data collected from UPP second phase tests will help inform a cross-agency unmanned traffic management (UTM) system implementation plan.

“We couldn’t be happier that the FAA has selected Oneida County’s New York UAS test site at Griffiss to develop the next phase of UAS traffic management,” Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr. said. “That our site has been chosen from what is already a small, elite group that has been granted test site status, is a testament to the high quality of work and collaboration of our partners in Rome. It’s an honor to be on the forefront of the next evolution of this transformative technology.”

An unmanned traffic management system would function much like the current manned air traffic management system; assuring people, aircraft, and structures both in the air and on the ground remain safe.

“To unlock the full capabilities and functionalities” of drones for commercial use like package delivery or medical supply drop-offs, a safe, universal UTM system is needed nationwide, NUAIR contends. Research and testing done at the NY UAS test site through the UPP phase 2 program will help make that UTM system “a reality.”

Over 3,000 advanced UAS test flights, including UTM tests, have been conducted at the NY UAS test site over the past five years. In 2019, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the completion of New York’s 50-mile drone corridor which starts at the test site in Rome and stretches across the state to Syracuse. The corridor has the “needed” infrastructure and technologies in place to complete the advanced drone operations and UTM standardization work outlined in UPP phase 2, NUAIR said.

“The New York UAS test site being selected by the FAA to take part in this next phase speaks  to the amount of meaningful testing and research we’ve been doing here in Central New York to advance the industry,” Tony Basile, COO of NUAIR, said. “The collaborative work we will achieve with our industry-leading partners will help shape the commercial drone industry on a national, if not international level.”

Virtual collaboration on UPP Phase 2 began in mid-April of this year, with live flights and component testing taking place at the test site starting this month.

UPP phase 1 was completed in August 2019, in collaboration with NASA; FAA UAS test sites; and their industry partners. Phase 1 tested capabilities such as the exchange of flight data among UAS operators and generating an emergency “no-fly zone” for general unmanned aircraft, “clearing the skies for emergency response drones,” NUAIR said.

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