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N.Y. drone testing coalition still needs $1.2 million in funding

Ryan Delaney
Dan Pacheco flies a small drone as part of a demonstration last month in Syracuse.

Upstate New York’s successful bid to host one of the nation’s drone testing programs came with the promise of millions of dollars in economic benefit to the region, but money to establish and fund the site itself is still needed.

Now the consortium behind the designation is reaching out to New York state. Ryan Delaney reports.

There was no federal funding attached to the Federal Aviation Administration’s designation of upstate New York as a drone research site. The coalition that won the bid just before the New Year, known as NUAIR, will be based at the former Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome. The research lab there is upgrading a former hanger to house drones and equipment.

NUAIR, (formally the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance), is made up of more than 40 academic institutions and defense contractors. The six test sites are part of the FAA's process of developing guidelines on integrating drones into the national airspace.

NUAIR says it will need $1.2 million a year for its operating budget in each of the next two years. Now, it’s seeking funding from New York state for that, but doesn’t have any promises.

"It won't be a show stopper, but it does delay things," if NUAIR can't get funding soon, said the coalition’s General Counsel, Larry Brinker.

Still, Brinker says they hope to be operating this summer.

"If we can get the state funding that we’re looking for, that moves us along a little more quickly," he said. "What’s happening is, the FAA sort of set the timetable for the first two months, so nobody is getting ahead."

Brinker spoke Tuesday morning at a Greater Utica Chamber of Commerce briefing about the new test site coming to the Mohawk Valley.

Officials here in New York hope that getting their site up and running sooner will encourage more drone companies to set up shop here. Brinker says they currently have half-a-dozen clients signed on.

Those business owners that attended the meeting Tuesday seemed hopeful that a drone testing site coming will be good for business.

"We're very excited about what they can do," said John Piseck of CTM, a precision machine company in Frankfort, N.Y.

"We’re looking at it as new business opportunities here in the valley," he added. "We think it’s a good opportunity for any company in the area that can have a potential to work with [drone manufacturers]."

NUAIR estimates the drone test site will bring $145 million dollars and a little under 500 jobs to the region.

Drones testing coming to upstate New York has also raised privacy and safety concerns among activists and some residents. Some argue more safeguards and regulations should be put in place before drones take off.

The FAA has a congressionally-designated mandate to begin rolling out drone regulations by the end of 2015.

WRVO/Central New York reporter for the Innovation Trail
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