Drone potential is ‘unlimited’

Published Sep 29, 2017 at 4:10pm

The growth of the drone industry in Central New York, with Griffiss International Airport as its anchor, was showcased Thursday at the airport.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo flew to Rome to announce a partnership between NASA and NUAIR, which manages the drone test site that is based at the county airport. Simultaneously, officials touted the initial phase of the development of the nation’s first air corridor where drones can be safely flown beyond line of sight for testing and development. When complete, the corridor will link Oneida County with Syracuse.

“The potential for it [the unmanned aerial system industry] is unlimited,” said an enthusiastic Cuomo as he spoke to an audience of several hundred in a large hangar. “And the applications are only limited by our imagination.”

He then noted that Oneida County used drones to survey flood damage earlier this year. Other pilotless aircraft devices are being flown in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to assess the recent devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. 

Griffiss is one of seven locations in the country to be designated by the Federal Aviation Administration as a test site for drones so they can be safely operated in the U.S. airspace alongside piloted aircraft. In the past year, 645 operations were conducted at the test site, a tenfold increase from the year before.

The $30 million state-funded corridor features ground-based sensors and radars to detect and track unmanned aircraft. The intent is to attract drone-related companies and jobs to the Mohawk Valley and Central New York. The corridor was announced last year.

“If you are interested in this industry, this is the place to be,” said the governor.

NASA’s Ronald Johnson said many drone applications, including public safety and package delivery, will be tested in the corridor. The partnership with NUAIR will give NASA opportunities to advance research and development in technologies such as communication, navigation and drone traffic management.

NASA already has a contract with Oneida County as part of the agency’s unmanned traffic management research effort to shape the rules and capabilities of the coming low-altitude drone ecosystem.

“I don’t believe this technology exists at any other airport in the world,” said Craig
Marcinkowski of Gryphon Sensors, a Syracuse area company that is supplying sophisticated instrumentation for the corridor. As he talked, a live demonstration was being projected on a large screen hung behind the podium.

Gryphon has developed an unmanned traffic management system that provides three-dimensional detection of low-flying, small drones at a distance of out to about six miles.

“This is groundbreaking,” said Oneida County Anthony J. Picente Jr. of what’s occurring in airspace over and around Griffiss.

In his remarks, Cuomo said the burgeoning commercial unmanned aerial vehicle business can be a pathway to grow the upstate economy and create good-paying, quality jobs in an industry of the future. In fact, he said the effort is already paying dividends, noting SRC Inc., which is headquartered in suburban Syracuse, plans to add up to 1,000 hires over the next five years as a result of increased industry growth and demand.

The governor also referenced the state’s GENIUS NY program, a business accelerator program that caters to business proposals in the categories of unmanned systems and data-to-decisions applications.

“To further incentivize people to come here and develop here, we’re running a competition for the best ideas in the area,” said Cuomo. “$10 million total prizes, $1 million first place prize for the best idea in unmanned aircraft.”

Other state and federal officials releasing statements after the NASA agreement was announced included U.S. Sen. Charles D. Schumer, state Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-47, Rome, and Assemblvman Anthony J. Brindisi, D-119, Utica.