Rome drone test site wraps up 2nd phase of pilot program

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Rome drone test site wraps up 2nd phase of pilot program
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Drone operators from NUAIR and Mohawk Valley Community College prepare their drones for flight. NUAIR says the second phase of the FAA’s unmanned aircraft traffic management pilot program at the New York UAS test site at Griffiss International Airport […]


Drone operators from NUAIR and Mohawk Valley Community College prepare their drones for flight. NUAIR says the second phase of the FAA’s unmanned aircraft traffic management pilot program at the New York UAS test site at Griffiss International Airport in Rome is complete. (PHOTO CREDIT: NUAIR)

ROME — The second phase of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) unmanned aircraft traffic management pilot program (UPP) at the New York UAS test site at Griffiss International Airport in Rome is complete.

The second phase of UPP (called UPP2) included capabilities and services that will support safe, high-density, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operations, NUAIR said in a news release.

A UAS includes a drone and equipment used to control its flight. A drone is also referred to in the industry as an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV.

Syracuse–based NUAIR is short for Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research. The nonprofit focuses on UAS operations, aeronautical research, safety management, and consulting services.

The capabilities demonstrated included remote identification services that will allow observers to identify nearby UAS, detecting and avoiding technology to prevent collisions, and public-safety operations.

Virtual collaboration for the effort began in mid-April of this year with three weeks of live flights and component testing throughout November, NUAIR said.

About the program’s second phase

More than 40 people from 13 different organizations came together, both physically and virtually, to complete the work outlined in UPP2.

Tony Basile, COO of NUAIR, served as the air boss, overseeing safety protocols and flight paths, and instructing pilots and visual observers throughout the event. Mark Reilly of AX Enterprize LLC — which has offices at the Rome drone test site and in Yorkville — served as the test director and technical lead for operations, “directing the flow of each demonstration scenario and confirming all systems were functioning properly,” per the NUAIR release.

Three weeks of testing included more than 100 live and simulated flights of both manned and unmanned aircraft. The UPP2 team reached its goal of high-density urban drone operations, with a peak density of 18 aircraft (15 live and 3 simulations) in the air at the same time, within 0.2 square-miles of airspace over downtown Rome.

Interoperability, information sharing, and communication between UAS service suppliers (USS) were “critical functions” for the team to address in order to achieve these advanced, high-density operations. Drone operators have many UAS-service suppliers to choose from for their drone-operating needs, much like consumers have many cellular-service suppliers to pick from for their mobile-phone needs, NUAIR said.

To test this “real-world scenario,” where one pilot may prefer to use the AiRXOS USS, while another likes to use ANRA Technologies, the UPP2 team had to work together to make sure each system could communicate properly with the other. Each USS, four in total (AiRXOS, ANRA Technologies, AX Enterprize, OneSky), were responsible for submitting flight plans into the collaborative system.

“The NY UAS Test Site and UPP2 team did an amazing job. Prior to contract award and COVID impacts, I knew this would be a complex and logistically challenging effort,” Mark Reilly, UPP2 program manager from AX Enterprize, said. “The team had to push hard to accomplish what we needed to do. In the end, we exceeded everyone’s expectations with the most simultaneous live UAS operations that have ever been conducted at the Test Site, successful execution of all UPP2 use-cases, and the demonstration of many technological aviation advancements.”

Adoption of drone technology by public-safety organizations continues to grow. Sheriff’s departments from Oneida County, Albany County, and Washington County took part in UPP2 by flying their drones and testing the process for implementing restricted airspace, reserving it for emergency drone operations. This process creates a “no-fly” zone in a specific area, alerting non-authorized drones in the vicinity to exit the airspace so they don’t interfere with emergency drone operations like immediate medication or medical-equipment delivery.

“The collaborative effort between all of our partners and participating organizations in order to safely complete the task at hand, in the middle of a pandemic, was astounding,” Tony Basile, COO at NUAIR, said. “We had pilots come in from across the state including a pilot from Mohawk Valley Community College and multiple pilots from the sheriff offices of Oneida County, Albany County and Washington County. Without their support and participation, we wouldn’t have been able to get to the airspace density required for UPP2.”