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Convention Puts CNY in the Spotlight as a Hub for the Growing Commercial Drone Industry

Governor Andrew Cuomo stopped by Syracuse Thursday to help wrap up a three-day convention on unmanned aviation systems, or drones, that attracted companies from across the nation and beyond.  He used the opportunity to commit $30 million  in additional funding to expand drone testing in the region.  

Credit Scott Willis / WAER News
Assured Information Systems was one of many vendors at the Unmanned Aviation Systems Traffic Management Convention.

Cuomo made his intentions clear when he began his remarks to hundreds of attendees at the Oncenter.

"I'm here because I want you and this industry located in Central New York," Cuomo said to applause. "That doesn't just happen by chance."

It happens, he says, by continuing the state’s commitment to developing a 50 mile flight traffic management system between Syracuse and Griffiss airport in Rome.  It would include FAA required clearances and landing strips needed for testing.

"These are people from all across the country, all across the world, who are pioneering in this,"  Cuomo said.  "Developing that testing facility is an investment, but we believe it will be very effective in luring these companies because they need that facility."

Those in the industry agree.  Michael Rondinelli is Director of Product Development at Near Earth Autonomy, a Pittsburgh-based company that makes mapping systems for drones.

"The big problem has always been having places we can legally fly to perform our tests, and learn and enhance our products," Rondinelli said.  "Fifty miles in order to fly these drones and understand the environment is very attractive to us."

Credit Shoshana Stahl / WAER News
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and ESD Chairman Howard Zemsky speak to the media.

Larry Brinker is an experienced pilot, and Executive Director of the NuAir Alliance, the not-for profit leading the effort to build the region’s drone industry.

"It's absolutely critical," Brinker said of the testing corridor.  "If we can solve the beyond visual line of sight problem, it opens up the entire commercial industry.  Hardly a week goes by that we don't get a call from somebody who's got a great idea that wants to come test it."

Empire State Development Corporation President Howard Zemsky says the area already has a good foundation.  

"We have Griffiss Air Base,  one of just a handful of FAA certified testing facilities," Zemsky said.  "You already have a lot of sensor and related technology companies here in the region.  You really  have growing,  dynamic industry that needs this type of traffic management testing system."

Members of the NuAir Alliance will be meeting next week to plan the path forward.  The governor wants the corridor up and running by 2018. 

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at