Last month, the FAA granted the Oneida County UAS Test Site the authority to operate large drones throughout its 50-mile flight corridor from Griffiss International Airport in Rome, NY to Syracuse, NY. The announcement is yet another step forward for the integration of larger, heavier uncrewed vehicles into our airways.

Commenting on the announcement, Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. said, “This new FAA designation removes some previous restrictions making it easier to test larger drones. Our test site is already the global leader for UAS research and development, and now, we will be able to test more advanced operations and be financially compensated for it.”

The test site received authority from the FAA through what is known as a “Charlie Waiver.” Specifically, this waiver gives the test site the ability to conduct flight tests of “platforms, systems, concepts of operation and other capabilities on drones up to 300 pounds,” including:

  • Research, development testing and evaluation
  • Operational suitability demonstrations
  • Familiarization flights
  • Crew training flights
  • Likely failure & specific demonstration testing
  • Noise testing
  • Flights to substantiate major design changes
  • Flights to show compliance with the function & reliability requirements of the regulations
  • Market survey
  • Flights that are part of the durability and reliability-based means of compliance type certificate

In announcing the Oneida County UAS Test Site waiver, a spokesperson for the FAA stated, “The significance of the Charlie waiver is that it will enable the FAA-designated UAS test sites’ qualified customers to conduct flight-testing with drones weighing under 300 pounds in an accelerated manner. The Charlie Waiver will transform the field of drone research and development by making it easier and more efficient to conduct these operations.”    

New York’s uncrewed systems corridor allows for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) testing and advanced uncrewed aircraft operations. The ability to test larger drones along this corridor enables the Oneida County UAS Test Site to build on the work it has been doing for many years to advance drone missions and technology.

Operating through a collaboration between Griffiss International Airport and NUAIR (Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance), the UAS test site has long focused on the safe and scalable integration of uncrewed vehicles into the airspace. To this end, efforts at the site have focused on infrastructure development, data collection and analysis, developing high-precision ground-based air traffic surveillance, and more.

In a recent conversation with Commercial UAV News, NUAIR CEO Ken Stewart explained that the test site is ideally suited for testing commercial drone operations. “(W)e're the only test site located at an airport, which is one of the hardest places to integrate drones into the airspace,” he stated. “Right off the bat, we can do more to solve that problem.”