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Fly the friendly skies

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The decision earlier this week by the Federal Aviation Administration to use parts of Central and Northern New York in a nationwide test of drones in U.S. airspace could be a major shot in the arm for the north country.

The FAA is under a 2012 congressional mandate to permit the remotely piloted aircraft to use U.S. airspace by 2015. The tests will determine how to integrate drones into airspace used by commercial and government aircraft and what technology would make this more efficient.

Fort Drum provides a very unique airspace to be used for testing drones over the next few years. Aside from New York, states selected for this testing were Alaska, Nevada, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia. The announcement was made by the FAA on Monday.

Parts of Massachusetts also will be used in this testing, although this state was included in the bid from the Central New York-based Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance (NUAIR). There were 25 bids submitted from 24 states to host these tests.

“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,” a story published Tuesday in the Watertown Daily Times reported.

The drones to be tested are different than the ones used for military purposes. These drones could be used by state, county or municipal governments, such as local police departments.

Private companies also will make more use of drones once the testing is completed and permission is granted. These tests will determine how drones can be used without interfering with manned aircraft.

“The FAA has estimated that 7,500 small drones could be aloft within five years, with industry officials predicting they could be used for such things as spotting wildfires, scouting film locations and delivering pizza,” according to a story Monday published by the Associated Press. “Drones, which have played an increasing role in military combat around the world, have also begun to take on new commercial roles, often going where it’s too dangerous for a pilot in a cockpit. They have helped measure radiation in the wake of the meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, penetrated the eyes of hurricanes to gather scientific data and helped firefighters see hot spots during wildfires.”

These drone tests will once again prove Fort Drum’s value to the nation and the north country. Drum has easy access to restricted airspace — that above the base and the training ranges over Lake Ontario. In addition, drone researchers will make use of the resources from military vendors in Northern and Central New York as well as the technological capabilities of Clarkson University in Potsdam.

This drone research can provide the platform for the U.S. Army, the 174th Fighter Wing in Syracuse and the Department of Defense to expand the presence of drones at Wheeler Sack Airfield. There is no need to scatter drone home bases around the Northeast. Drum can become the home for all military drones in the Northeast utilizing the Army’s hangar space to consolidate all maintenance and home base services for drones, which would then be remotely controlled from their operating crews home bases.

The decision by the FAA to include New York in this program is welcome news indeed.

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