WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Federal Aviation Administration today approved Syracuse-based NUAIR's application to begin operating a national test site for unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, according to U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.
The NUAIR consortium's Northeast U.S. test site is now the fifth out of six nationwide that the FAA has cleared to become operational.
The FAA approved the first test flights through NUAIR's operations center at Griffiss International Airport in Rome.
The first client approved for the test flights is Cornell Cooperative Extension, which will conduct experiments with small PrecisionHawk drones that could be used to support agriculture, Schumer said.
The tests will use PrecisionHawk's Lancaster Hawkeye Mk III drone, a small fixed-wing aircraft, to fly about 400 feet above farms to collect data on corn, wheat and soybean crops. Sensors on the drones will allow scientists to collect data about crop growth, insect activity, crop disease and soil conditions.
NUAIR officials confirmed the FAA decision this afternoon, and said no test flights will begin for at least two weeks. During that time, the alliance will establish an independent safety review board and create a flight plan.
NUAIR officials said the first test flights with Cornell Cooperative Extension will take place over a farm in Batavia in Western New York. The 3-pound, 4-foot long drone is small enough to be launched by hand at the farm.
NUAIR, or Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance, is a consortium of about 40 public and private entities and academic institutions in New York and Massachusetts.
Schumer, D-N.Y., and other members of Central New York's congressional delegation had been asking the FAA for more than six months to allow the NUAIR site to become operational.
"I am confident that this will be the first of many more test flight approvals in the near future, and I will continue to push the FAA to move as quickly as possible because these test flights have the potential to bring thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in economic revenue to the entire region over the next few years," Schumer said.
U.S. Rep. Dan Maffei, D-Syracuse, said the FAA decision is "terrific news" that will help grow the local economy. NUAIR officials have said the test site could help generate 2,600 new jobs in New York and Massachusetts, with an economic impact of $600 million by 2017.
The FAA confirmed its approval this afternoon in a statement from Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
"We are accomplishing two important missions with the launch of this test site," Foxx said. "The safe integration of unmanned aircraft into the NAS (national air space) is our number one priority, but the agricultural research performed in Rome also may have far-reaching benefits to farmers in New York and across the nation."
The FAA said it granted a two-year waiver to its UAS rules allowing the research with Cornell Cooperative Extension. Each of the test flights will be allowed to last up to 60 minutes from takeoff to landing.
In December, the FAA designated NUAIR as one of six national test sites where researchers will help figure out to integrate drones into the national airspace by 2015, while also respecting privacy rights.
The NUAIR alliance will concentrate its research on developing "sense and avoid" technology to keep drones from crashing into other aircraft or objects.
Each of the six national test sites will concentrate on different areas of research. In Alaska, for example, the FAA granted the University of Alaska Fairbanks permission to conduct test flights of small Aeryon Scout drones for surveys of large wild animals such as caribous and reindeer over the next two years. The flights are near the airport in Fairbanks, and will give the FAA data about drones operating near airports.
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