The drone corridor between Rome and Syracuse will host the first-in-the-nation 5G test network for unmanned aircraft that could one day revolutionize commercial and private drone use.
The drone corridor is the area in Central New York were drones are federally authorized to fly outside of the line of sight of the operator.
Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Tuesday MITRE Engenuity Open Generation 5G Consortium will bring 5G to the 50-mile drone corridor between the two Central New York cities.
Rome Mayor Jacqueline Izzo said there are numerous potential uses for 5G drone usage after it passes testing. This includes commercial delivery and private uses, such as bridge inspections and surveying disaster sites during emergencies in real time.
“There are a multitude of potential uses, so this 5G corridor will become an important training area to move from a test environment to an everyday use in commercial airspace,” Izzo said.
David Tewksbury runs Hamilton College’s GIS & Tech Support for Geosciences and is a Federal Aviation Authority certified UAS Pilot. He thinks the current drone regulations — flying 400 feet above the ground and remaining in the sight of the operator — are adequate for the everyday user and is doubtful 5G technology will be incorporated for the general UAV user.
Tewksbury believes 5G will make commercial drone usage beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) safe and possible.
Looking into the future, Tewksbury sees drones developed for the general consumer market having increasing capabilities and automation, just like cellphones. This will lead to FAA-imposed flight restrictions due to the hazards drones present to manned aircraft when flown irresponsibly, Tewksbury said.
“The most likely highly visible future UAV use will be in the delivery sector,” Tewksbury said. “Once systems to allow BVLOS and integration of UAVs into the national air space, and the FAA UTM (Unmanned Traffic Management) and European U-Space Initiative are in place & operational, I have no doubt that Amazon, UPS, FedEx, and a host of others will be using UAVs for local deliveries, most likely at a premium price.”
“Amazon is already building local distribution centers. It does not seem too much of a look ahead that the Amazon van we see today either incorporates a UAV or is replaced by one in the future.”
In a Tuesday statement, Hochul said the designation helps firmly establish the state’s position as a global leader in unmanned aircraft systems.
Hochul further said the 5G network builds on the state’s nearly $70 million investment in the corridor.
“Our drone corridor being selected for the launch of the nation’s first 5G unmanned aircraft systems testing range further positions our state — specifically the Central New York and the Mohawk Valley region — as the global leader in the market for this cutting-edge technology,” Hochul said in a statement. “Through our continued investment in the drone corridor, we are strengthening and growing our regional economies for generations to come”
Hochul’s statement said the state made an initial $30 million investment in 2016 to develop the flight traffic management system between Syracuse and Griffiss International Airport in Rome. The state has invested about $40 million since then to advance the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) industry in Central New York and the Mohawk Valley.
Many telecommunications leaders consider 5G to be the ideal spectrum for unmanned aircraft systems operations, according to Hochul’s statement. Officials are looking to have it approved by the FAA and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for airborne use in airspace under 400 feet — the typical airspace used for commercial drone operations.
Bluetooth and Wi-Fi — other bands of unlicensed spectrum used to fly drones — are not reliable enough for safe, long-range drone operations, according to the statement.
The Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance Inc., or NUAIR, manages the FAA’s New York Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site at Griffiss International Airport, which is owned by Oneida County.
NUAIR, a nonprofit organization, also is a member of Open Generation, according to the statement.
With NUAIR’s coordination, the corridor will include an experimentation hub with more than 100 square miles dedicated to 5G beyond-visual-line-of-site testing and long-range flight paths – a capability critical to the commercialization of safe and secure unmanned aircraft systems.
“New York will be the first FAA-designated UAS test site with a bespoke 5G network,” NUAIR CEO Ken Stewart said in a statement. “The industry is looking for an FAA and FCC approved communications network that has the capability and reliability needed for safe commercial drone operations. 5G holds the promise of unlocking scalable, economically viable drone operations and we are confident that our work in New York will help determine if 5G is a suitable solution for the UAS industry.”
NUAIR officials said they still are selecting the optimal locations for the 5G test locations. The needed equipment is expected to arrive in about two months’ time, and testing is expected prior to the end of the year, officials said.
Ed Harris is the Oneida County reporter for the Observer-Dispatch. Email Ed Harris at [email protected].