ROME — Envisioning a day when millions of drones will buzz around delivering packages, watching crops or inspecting pipelines, a coalition is creating an airspace corridor in upstate New York where traffic management systems will be developed and unmanned aircraft can undergo safety and performance testing.
The unmanned aircraft traffic management corridor, jump-started by a $30 million state investment, will extend 50 miles (80 kilometers) west over mostly rural farmland from Griffiss International Airport, a former Air Force base in Rome that is already home to NASA-affiliated drone testing.
It will be equipped with radar and ground-based sensors to enable what Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo boasted would be “the most advanced drone testing in the country.”
The first segment of the corridor was launched last month by the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance, a coalition of private and public entities and academic institutions in New York and Massachusetts created to establish Griffiss as a drone industry incubator.
The airport is one of seven places around the country designated by the Federal Aviation Administration as an unmanned aircraft systems test site. Other sites are in Virginia, North Dakota, New Mexico, Texas, Nevada and Alaska.
Testing at the airport now is restricted to a five-mile radius, in part because of Federal Aviation Administration rules that normally limit flying beyond the operator’s line of sight, except in special circumstances, such as disaster area surveys. That keeps companies like Amazon and Walmart from using drones for package delivery.
Companies will be able to use the corridor to test hardware in airspace where manned aircraft also fly. Part of the concept is to help NASA to test technology that will allow the FAA to create regulations opening the national airspace to a commercial drone industry.
“Clients will eventually be able to fly beyond the visual line of sight in the corridor testing their technology,” said Tony Basile, NUAIR’s vice president for operations.
In addition to supporting development of drone air traffic control rules and systems, NUAIR helps unmanned aircraft service companies demonstrate their wares to clients and provides drone pilot training to state forest rangers, law enforcement and others...