CANANDAIGUA — With the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announcing Monday that six states will host research sites for unmanned aircrafts — also known as drones — Brian Pitre, co-founder of SkyOp LLC, in Canandaigua, said it’s something he’s been waiting on for awhile.
“It will definitely help out,” Pitre said of the announcement that New York, Alaska, Nevada, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia, will develop test sites for drones. “(Unmanned aircrafts) are transformative technology — it will change so many things.”
The New York test site will be located at Griffiss International Airport, in Rome, Oneida County.
“These test sites will give us valuable information about how best to ensure the safe introduction of this advanced technology into our nation’s skies,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.
Drones have been mainly used by the military, but governments, businesses, farmers and others are making plans to join the market. Many universities are starting or expanding drone programs. Earlier this year, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos discussed a package delivery system that would utilize drone technology.
“Many people think of them as killing machines,” Pitre said. “The Amazon deliveries have changed the discussion. Now, people are looking at all the good that it can do.”
Pitre, along with co-founder Dan Albert, officially started SkyOp in January 2013. The business utilizes unmanned airborne vehicles to provide aerial video and photography services. Pitre said Monday’s announcement is a step in the right direction toward developing other uses for drones. He predicted that public safety — police and fire — and agriculture will be the next markets to see a boost from the advanced technology.
Currently, the FAA does not allow commercial use of drones, but it is working to develop operational guidelines by the end of 2015, although officials concede the project may take longer than expected. The FAA projects some 7,500 commercial drones could be aloft within five years of getting widespread access to American airspace.
“Safety continues to be our first priority as we move forward with integrating unmanned systems into U.S. airspace,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement. “We have successfully brought new technology into the nation’s aviation system for more than 50 years, and I have no doubt we will do the same with unmanned aircraft.”
An industry-commissioned study has predicted more than 70,000 jobs would develop in the first three years after Congress loosens drone restrictions on U.S. skies. The same study projects an average salary range for a drone pilot between $85,000 and $115,000.
Representatives from winning states were jubilant about the FAA announcement.
"All we ever wanted was to compete and we have successfully," said Rep. Richard Hanna, R-Barneveld. "Helping build a new high-tech economy in the Mohawk Valley is essential to the future of our community. Promoting Griffiss as a hub for new jobs and innovation is a major part of this effort and this news is exciting for our region's future."
The FAA said when selecting the sites it considered geography, climate, location of ground infrastructure, research needs, airspace use, aviation experience and risk.
In the case of Alaska, the FAA cited a diverse set of test site range locations in seven climatic zones. New York’s site at Griffiss International Airport will look into integrating drones into the congested northeast airspace.
The state of North Dakota already has committed $5 million to the venture and named a former state Air National Guard Commander as its test site director.
— Includes reporting from the Associated Press and the Utica Observer-Dispatch