When it comes to drone technology, most people have a similar vision of the future. Packages will buzz around overhead, drones will be conducting inspections with autonomous ease; there might even be passenger vehicles gracing our skies. Nothing will be crashing or losing control and together we’ll share the benefits of all of these aerial advancements. At least that’s the utopian version.
To get there, plenty of testing and experimentation needs to be done. Particularly in urban areas, where drones, their pilots and all of these technologies can be exposed to real-world environments to see how they fare.
The NUAIR Alliance
With that in mind, a coalition is developing a corridor of airspace in upstate New York for the testing of traffic management systems. The corridor will give businesses and organizations a safe place to test out performance and safety testing.
The unmanned aircraft traffic management corridor will run 50 miles west over rural farmland from Griffiss International Airport, a former Air Force base in Rome that is already home to NASA-affiliated drone testing. Admittedly, it’s not exactly urban, but it’s certainly not the Australian outback either.
The project has been state-funded to the tune of $20 million, a number that includes a significant amount of ground-based infrastructure to ensure testing goes smoothly: The corridor will be equipped with radar and sensors to develop what Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said will be “the most advanced drone testing in the country.”
The first section of the testing corridor was set up last month by the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance. The coalition represents both private and public entities and academic institutions in New York and Massachusetts. The goal is to establish Griffiss as an incubator for drone industry platforms, hardware and concepts.
Griffiss airport is one of seven spots around the US that has been designated by the FAA to be a UAS test site. The others include parts of Virginia, North Dakota, New Mexico, Texas, Nevada and Alaska.
Testing corridor could open the door to BVLOS
Currently, testing at the airport in Rome, NY, is restricted to a five-mile radius. In part, this is because of the FAA’s rules governing flight beyond the operator’s line of sight. While that restriction is keeping companies such as Amazon and Walmart from fulfilling their drone delivery promises, Tony Basile, NUAIR’s vice president for operations, believes that “clients will eventually be able to fly beyond visual line of sight in the corridor testing their technology.”
NUAIR will be working with NASA to test UTM technology and hardware in airspace where manned aircraft are also present.
The state of New York has suffered economically in recent years due to a decline in manufacturing. But Governor Cuomo has suggested that the Griffiss drone research initiative could help to bring technology companies into the state. The project is being backed by up to $250 million of state funds under the Upstate Revitalization Initiative.
Tony Basile has said that the full 50-mile UTM corridor between Syracuse and Griffiss Airport will ready for flight testing in a year’s time.