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New CEO at NUAIR wants to commercialize CNY's drone corridor

Ken Stewart is the new president and CEO of NUAIR.

NUAIR, the nonprofit organization overseeing drone testing and development in central New York, has a new president and CEO. Ken Stewart, who formerly worked with General Electric aviation, will be charged with taking the region's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-testing site and 50-mile drone corridor to the next level.

While at GE's AirXOS, Stewart worked on a system to safely and efficiently integrate unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace, collaborating with both the private and public sectors to make it happen. His task will be much the same at NAUIR, one of the reasons Stewart was selected for the role. Now that the FAA has recently released regulations for flying drones over populated areas, his top priority is what he calls commercialization of the the corridor, meaning preparing the software and procedures that will eventually allow companies like Amazon to take to the air. 

"There's still a lot of regulatory work that has to be done, a lot of flight testing simulations, drones have to get air worthiness certifications, but I would like to see that a year from now we are on a path to really lead this industry in the United States toward a true commercial operating UTM [unmanned traffic management] corridor where drones are operating or beginning to operate commercially at scale," Stewart said. 

Stewart said once they find a way to make this scalable and economically viable, it will bring business, people, and more jobs to the region. 

“We are extremely excited to welcome someone with Ken’s knowledge, experience and passion to the role of CEO at NUAIR,” said Rob Simpson, president of CenterState CEO, in a press release. “His leadership will enable ongoing collaboration and innovative advancement of NUAIR’s mission, further expanding its engagement with businesses and experts to advance critical research and development of the sector across central New York.”

New York state invested $30 million to develop the 50-mile flight traffic management corridor between Syracuse and Griffiss International Airport in Rome, which is one of only seven FAA-designated unmanned aircraft systems test sites in the nation. That commitment and investment in drone testing is one of the reasons Stewart said he decided to join NUAIR. 

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.