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Oneida County’s UAS Test Site receives new FAA flight authority for larger drones

By Traci DeLore (


A NUAIR drone at the UAS Test Site at Griffiss International Airport in Rome. (File photo credit: NUAIR)

ROME, N.Y. — Drones flying between Syracuse and Rome are getting bigger and heavier with authorization from the FAA for Oneida County’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Test Site at Griffiss International Airport to operate drones up to 300 pounds along the 50-mile flight corridor.

“This new FAA designation removes some previous restrictions making it easier to test larger drones,” Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. said in a press release. “Our test site is already the global leader for UAS research and development, and now, we will be able to test more advanced operations and be financially compensated for it.”

For the past decade, the site operated under Public Aircraft Operations authority, which meant the site had to petition the FAA for a special airworthiness certificate-experimental category and an exemption. The process was time consuming and resource-intensive for both the county and the FAA, the release stated.

The new authorization, known as the “Charlie waiver,” allows the test site to support customers in conducting flight tests of platforms, systems, concepts of operation, and other capabilities on drones up to 300 pounds. That includes research, development testing, and evaluation; operational suitability demonstrations; familiarization flights; crew-training flights; likely failure and specific demonstration testing; noise testing; flights to substantiate major design changes; flights to show compliance with function/reliability requirements of the regulations; market survey; and flights that are part of the durability and reliability-based means of compliance-type certificate.

The Charlie waiver enables the site’s qualified customers to conduct flight testing with drones weighing under 300 pounds in an accelerated manner, which makes it more efficient to conduct such operations, according to the FAA.

The Oneida County UAS Test Site is one of just seven in the United States. It’s operated through a partnership between the county, AX Enterprize, and NUAIR.

To date, the site has conducted more than 5,000 test flights and completed multiple projects with the FAA and NASA to advance the UAS industry.

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