BOSTON — The Federal Aviation Administration has chosen Griffiss International Airport in northern New York as one of six unmanned aircraft systems research and test sites, a choice with ramifications for Massachusetts researchers and the airspace over Cape Cod.
As a partner with Griffiss, MassDevelopment will manage testing facilities at Joint Base Cape Cod, with test site areas for what are commonly called drones including restricted airspace over the base and in “warning areas” off the Massachusetts coast. The base covers 22,000 acres on Upper Cape Cod.
“Lately, we have been engaged with multiple in-state and federal agencies who have taken advantage of our offer to ‘host’ them for different projects,” Colonel Jim LeFavor, commander of the 102nd Intelligence Wing at Otis Air National Guard Base, on Cape Cod, said in a statement. “One of our main commodities is plenty of space and willingness to assist.”
MassDevelopment reported yesterday that “in anticipation of Massachusetts’ potential selection,” the agency and the Massachusetts National Guard established the MA UAS Test Center on Camp Edwards and “began to host active UAS use in the restricted airspace over the Army Guard’s training area.” Under current law, test site operations may continue until February 13, 2017.
The FAA announced its six test sites yesterday following a 10-month process involving 25 proposals from 24 states — a MassDevelopment official said Massachusetts did not submit its own proposal and partnered with New York through the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance, a consortium of more than 40 public and private entities.
Other organizations in the partnership include Saab Sensis, SRC, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Rochester Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Syracuse University, Clarkson University, and Northeastern University.
The other five test site operators chosen by the FAA are the University of Alaska, the State of Nevada, the North Dakota Department of Commerce, Texas A&M University — Corpus Christi, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech).
While the advent of drones brings with it privacy concerns, Congress has required the FAA to develop rules to integrate unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system by 2015, according to MassDevelopment, the state’s finance and development agency, which cites potential civil and commercial uses such as agriculture, disaster relief, environmental research and pipeline surveillance.
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos this month told 60 Minutes about his company’s plans to someday deploy drones as part of its distribution network, and there are myriad commercial and recreational possibilities for drones.
Griffiss, which is in Rome, N.Y., plans to work on developing test and evaluation and verification and validation processes under FAA safety oversight, to focus research on “sense and avoid capabilities” for unmanned aircraft systems, and to “aid in researching the complexities of integrating UAS into the congested, northeast airspace,” according to the FAA.
MassDevelopment on Monday cited the potential for 70,000 new jobs nationwide in the unmanned aircraft system industry by 2017 and 100,000 by 2025. The industry’s economic impact in the U.S. could reach $82 billion by 2025, according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, and Massachusetts can expect an increase of 985 jobs, an economic impact of $386 million and tax revenues of $3.8 million between 2015 and 2017. UAS test sites will stimulate job growth, with the association estimating Massachusetts will receive nearly 3 percent of all manufacturing growth tied to the industry.
Along with Sen. Edward Markey, Congressman William Keating, National Guard Adjutant General Scott Rice, and state Transportation Secretary Richard Davey, Wendy Northcross, CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the development.
“We are looking forward to the introduction of new firms and the high-tech jobs associated with UAS development here, which is enabled by the new high-speed broadband network proved through Cape Net and the OpenCape backbone,” Northcross said in a statement. “We can also envision a great future with UAS supporting increased efficiency in the fishing industry of the Cape and new ways to support the conservation and protection of marine mammals as they move through Cape waters.”
The reported use of drones in U.S. military operations overseas has drawn criticism from around the world.
In his statement applauding the selection, Markey said Massachusetts “will be well positioned to be a national leader in development of the highest operational standards and strongest privacy protections for drones as they prepare to take flight in U.S. airspace.”