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NUAIR In Rome Reaches Difficult FAA Milestone In Drone Integration Program

The Unmanned Aerial Systems, or UAS test site at Griffiss Airport in Rome recently reached another milestone in the testing of drone operations when they completed a key phase of the FAA’s drone integration program. 

NUAIR Chief Operations Officer Tony Basile says getting to this point was no easy task.

"UPP2 was the most complex, technologically advanced project that the New York test site has ever worked on."

UPP2 is the second phase of the unmanned aircraft traffic management pilot program.  Forty people from 13 different organizations came together physically and virtually to complete the work, which took 6 months to plan and three months to execute.  Basile says they’re demonstrating a number of technologies for drones to operate safely in the air.  That includes a collision avoidance system similar to those on airliners.

"The systems give direction to each aircraft on how to avoid.  So, it'll say to one aircraft descend and turn right, and the other craft it'll say climb and turn left."

To test this and other systems, Basile says they flew more than a dozen drones and a general aviation Piper Cherokee in point-two square miles of airspace.

"We're getting great accolades.  We actually put more aircraft in the air that was required.  They wanted 13.  We put 15 drones and the Cherokee in that small piece of airspace, basically in downtown Rome.  That just keeps you in the forefront of what's going on in the industry."

Basile says the most difficult part of the whole project was making sure the four drone service suppliers in the demonstration could communicate and interact with each other. They’re the equivalent of choosing a cell phone service provider.  He says unmanned traffic management, or UTM, is essential to reaching what he calls the holy grail of drone operations:  beyond vision, line of sight.  But Basile says there’s still work to do before getting to that point. 

"What's going to be required on the drone when you can't see where the drone is.  How do you ensure that mission is going to be safe if you lose a motor.  If you're Amazon and you're drone is delivering something 6 miles away, you certainly cannot see it.  How do you avoid the crane that went up to put up a building that wasn't there yesterday, or somebody else's drone, or that Cherokee that's out there just enjoying the scenery."

Delivering COVID test kits from SUNY Upstate in Syracuse.


Meanwhile, NUAIR collaborated with DroneUP to provide drone pilot training at the Griffiss Test Site.  DroneUp is the first drone organization to operate with an FAA Operation Over People Waiver.  They and the COVID-19 Humanitarian UAS Response Partnership recently demonstrated a delivery test of COVID-19 test kits between Upstate University Hospital and SUNY’s Biotech Accelerator several blocks away.  Basile says it’s a game changer, and showcases the life-saving potential of contactless drone deliveries.

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