Remember when Amazon President Jeff Bezos said he hopes to deliver packages with drones?
Some of the testing for that kind of private sector use for unmanned aircraft systems will now be done at Griffiss International Airport.
The Federal Aviation Administration announced today that a group headquartered at Griffiss has been awarded one of six licenses nationwide for commercial drone testing.
"All we ever wanted was to compete and we have successfully," said Rep. Richard Hanna, R-Barneveld. "Helping build a new high-tech economy in the Mohawk Valley is essential to the future of our community. Promoting Griffiss as a hub for new jobs and innovation is a major part of this effort and this news is exciting for our region's future."
Hanna is a member of the House Transportation Committee and the Unmanned Systems Caucus.
Local officials partnered in the effort with groups in New York and Massachusetts. The airspace covered in the license stretches from Syracuse and Ft. Drum all the way to the Massachusetts coast.
The initiative is expected to bring as much as $700 million to the two states.
It's not yet clear how many jobs will come directly to Griffiss, since many of the 2,700 jobs expected will be created at companies and schools involved in drone research and development.
Only about 500 of the jobs are expected to land in New York, and the rest will likely be based in Massachusetts, with its high level universities like Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Some of the testing may be also done in Massachusetts at an airstrip called Joint Base Cape Cod.
But local officials hope that Griffiss' role as the primary testing runway will draw offshoots of private companies to the former Air Force base, and even spark the creation of new ones here.
"Today's announcement from the FAA is great news for the county and the region," Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente said. "In New York State alone this site will create an estimated 470 jobs and have a statewide economic impact of $145 million. This announcement today positions Oneida County on the cutting edge of the research, development and implementation of this new and exciting technology."
Officials likened the impact of the drone testing headquarters to that of the Rome's Air Force Research Laboratory, which has attracted numerous private technology companies to the area.
In addition to Amazon package drop-offs, possible uses for drones include everything from search and rescue to weather tracking to mapping. Agricultural uses, such as crop monitoring, are also under development.
No armed drones would be flown out of Griffiss, and strict privacy rules would be observed to ensure area residents' rights are protected.
Page 2 of 3 - About 24 areas applied for the licenses.
The first phase of the integration of drones into U.S. civilian air space is set to begin in September of 2015. That means testing will have to begin soon.
That doesn't mean that Griffiss' role as a testing center will end after 2015, however.
Such experimentation will continue for at least five years, and perhaps longer, Hanna's office said. Any time a new type of research gears up, it will need to be tested before it enters the national air space traversed by commercial and private aircraft, Hanna's office said.
Some drone technologies are already nearly ready for prime time.
Companies like Lockheed have been developing military drone technology for many years, and are ready to transition it to the private sector already. All that's required is the proper testing, officials said.
Between now and 2025, the integration of drones into the national airspace is expected to generate more than 100,000 well paid jobs.
Funding for the headquarters will be generated by the NUAIR partners, and could come from state or federal grants, private sector contributions or user fees, according to a spokesperson in Hanna's office.
Local officials became part of a consortium called Northeast Unmanned Aircraft System Air Space Integration Research, known as NUAIR, soon after the competition was announced in January, 2012.
NUAIR consists of about 40 companies and university groups from New York and Massachusetts. Syracuse's CenterState CEO has played a lead role in promoting the application. Rome Lab, Fort Drum and the Air National Guard's 174th Attack Wing will also have the chance to be involved with Griffiss activities. They could not lead the application because federal and military entities were barred from doing so.
In July of this year, Hanna spearheaded the writing of a letter to the FAA, which was signed by 23 representatives from the two states.
The letter touts the industrial and technological credentials of the NUAIR group and points to the many advantages the region has to offer.
Because of its military installations, the area features 7,000 square miles of restricted airspace that cannot be traversed by commercial or private aircraft. That means drones being tested wouldn't be in danger of tangling with such flights.
Rome Lab is already heavily involved in developing technologies for military drones, the letter also states.
"The aggregate local knowledge and expertise already available and established to support the NUAIR proposal provides the ideal setting for the FAA to test and develop UAS technology," the letter said.
The area's geography is also ideal, Hanna's office said. Its diverse geography features the Adirondack Mountains, forests and lakes, as well as the Atlantic coast. The fact that the area experiences all four seasons means the drones could be tested under a range of conditions.
Page 3 of 3 - Some military drone work is already under way at Fort Drum.
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