New York plans to move ahead with UAS program

By Patrick C. Miller | June 05, 2018

Although the state of New York’s proposal for the U.S. Department of Transportation UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP) wasn’t among those selected last month, efforts are underway to move forward to test drone delivery and other commercial UAS applications.

New York has one of six FAA-designated UAS test sites in the nation at Griffiss International Airport near Rome. Funded by Empire State Development (ESD), the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research (NUAIR) Alliance—which includes Massachusetts and Michigan—manages operations and research at the test site.

New York and several other partners—which news accounts said included Amazon—submitted an IPP proposal, but it wasn’t one of the 10 selected last month when Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao announced the winners. Some New York officials charged that the Trump administration was playing politics with the program.

While announcing the UAS pilot projects, Chao left open the possibility that dozens of additional projects from among the 149 applicants could be selected to proceed under current rules using waivers granted by the FAA. “I have asked the FAA to reach out to many of these other applicants in the coming months and weeks to talk about how they may be able to move forward with their proposals,” she said. 

Mark Reynolds, ESD vice president of strategic business, said that on June 15, New York officials will have a debrief with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) during which they hope to learn why their proposal was rejected and what the state’s options are moving forward.

“We don’t have any official feedback from the FAA,” Reynolds said. “We’re going to proceed with the plan—with the program—regardless. We have a really good relationship with the FAA. We’re not going to let the fact that they didn’t select us for IPP slow us down in any way; we’re proceeding.”

In addition to having a long history with the aerospace industry and its associated workforce, Reynolds said New York has met with success in attracting commercial UAS businesses, particularly in the areas of communications, radar, navigation and electronics. The state has also launched a UAS test corridor covered by fixed and mobile radar using technology from its commercial partners, Gryphon Sensors and Raytheon.

“The test corridor includes a lot of assets that should find traction with the commercial drone operators,” Reynolds noted. These include Interstate and local highways, highly populated urban centers, rural agricultural land and nautical areas over large bodies of water.

“There’s the whole gamut of utilities, overhead high-voltage power lines, local distribution lines and gas lines,” Reynolds said. “Testing on monitoring those assets can be done within the corridor. We’ve been working with a couple of the drone delivery companies that want to test package delivery from a centralized location. We’ve identified locations for those opportunities to set up drone delivery pathways with local regulators.”

Reynolds also said New York has been working with the FAA to obtain permission to conduct beyond visual-line-of-sight operations within the UAS test corridors and expects that it will happen this year.