Rome, N.Y. -- Officials on Thursday launched what they touted as the first air corridor in the nation where unmanned aerial vehicles can safely fly beyond line of sight for testing and development.
The Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance, or Nuair, officially activated the corridor by flying a manned aircraft and a small drone in airspace over and around Griffiss International Airport.
Ground-based sensors and radars developed by Gryphon Sensors, a subsidiary of Syracuse-based SRC Inc., detected and tracked both aircraft in a demonstration that allowed air traffic managers to keep the two craft a safe distance from each other.
The corridor now consists of a 5-mile circle around Griffiss, in which special sensors and radars are able to detect small drones flying at very low altitudes - something traditional radars around airports cannot do.
Nuair President and CEO Larry Brinker said the corridor will be expanded next year, with $30 million in state funding, into a 50-mile-long air space stretching from Rome to Syracuse.
Officials said construction of the full network of sensors and radars is expected to start by the third quarter of 2018.
The alliance, a collection of more than 100 for-profit and non-profit companies, is working to make Central New York and the Mohawk Valley a magnet for the growing unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, industry.
"If you are interested in this industry, this is the place to be," said Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose administration has pledged up to $250 million in state funding under his Upstate Revitalization Initiative to build the corridor and promote the growth of the UAV industry in the region.
Potential uses of drones include search and rescue operations, inspection of bridges and other structures, and package deliveries.
Brinker said the Rome to Syracuse air corridor will allow manufacturers of drones and their components and developers of unmanned air traffic control systems to safely test their hardware and systems in airways where manned aircraft also fly.
Robert Simpson, president and CEO of Syracuse-based CenterState Corporation for Economic Opportunity, said the corridor will help make Central New York home for manufacturing, research, development and testing tied to the UAV industry.
"It isn't just the manufacture of drones," he said. "It's the manufacture of their components and materials and sensor systems. We have one of the strongest collection of sensor companies in the world right here."