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Northern New York, Fort Drum will be part of FAA drone test in civilian airspace

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WATERTOWN - The skies of Central and Northern New York area will be a part of a nationwide test of drones in civilian airspace.

The region was one of six nationwide that were selected by the Federal Aviation Administration Monday.

The bid from Central New York-based Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance, or NUAIR, will put the drone flights in multiple areas of central and Northern New York, including Fort Drum, along with portions of Massachusetts. NUAIR includes 40 academic institutions and private and public entities from the two states.

The FAA said the site was picked “to work on developing test and evaluation as well as verification and validation processes under FAA safety oversight.”

NUAIR’s application was pushed along by CenterState Corporation for Economic Opportunity in New York and MassDevelopment in Massachusetts, and was submitted by Griffiss International Airport.

“What we saw is there was a big competition,” said Robert M. Simpson, president of Centerstate CEO and NUAIR. “To be only one of six picked is a great accomplishment for the team that wrote the application.”

The FAA said that the airport “also plans to focus its research on sense-and-avoid capabilities for UAS and its sites will aide in researching the complexities of integrating UAS into the congested, northeast airspace.”

Other sites and groups picked for the test are the University of Alaska, the state of Nevada, the North Dakota Department of Commerce, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and Virginia Tech.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a conference call with reporters that the selected sites represented a wide range of airspaces and climates.

The competition for a test site was robust, he said, as 25 entities in 24 states submitted proposals. At least one of the six sites chosen will be up and running within 180 days, while the others are expected to come online in quick succession, he said during the call.

Mr. Simpson said the FAA’s timeline was in line with their own timeline, stating more research was needed for the placement of ground-based radars, along with the development of detection software for the aircraft.

In the early days of testing, Mr. Simpson said, smaller aircraft may be used in small population areas.

In light of the recent crash of a New York Air National Guard MQ-9 Reaper into Lake Ontario, Mr. Simpson said “our goal through this test designation is to find a safety standard that is equal to or higher than any other means,” Mr. Simpson said.

The site selections are a part of a plan to expand their use.

The FAA does not allow commercial use of drones, but it is working to develop operational guidelines by the end of 2015, although officials concede the project may take longer than expected. The FAA projects some 7,500 commercial drones could be aloft within five years of getting widespread access to American airspace.

The six sites will be authorized for test purposes until Feb. 13, 2017.

According to NUAIR, the drone industry is projected to bring more than $800 million in economic impact to New York and Massachusetts and create more than 4,000 jobs over the next three years.

The selection of six sites was prompted by the the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., in a news release, said the move was a “slam dunk” for the region, and said it would make the area the Silicon Valley for unmanned aircraft flight.

“The strong coalition of academic, public and private sector partners helped make New York’s application stronger than ever, and I made sure the FAA knew just how deserving New York-based NUAIR was for this designation,” Sen. Schumer said. “This unmanned air systems research and testing will usher in jobs while benefiting key industries, like agriculture and logistics.”

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said in a statement that she was pleased with the announcement.

“This designation can pave the way for new economic growth and good-paying jobs for the region, and boost our research and development of new technology,” she said.

Mr. Huerta said his agency is sensitive to privacy concerns involving drones. Test sites must have a written plan for data use and retention and will be required to conduct an annual review of privacy practices that involves public comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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