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Schumer joins lobbying effort for upstate NY drone test site

Ryan Delaney

New York's senior senator, Charles Schumer, has formally joined the lobbying effort to see that upstate New York becomes a federally designated drone testing site.

The Federal Aviation Administration will soon name a half dozen sites around the country as it works to come up with regulations for commercial drone use in U.S. airspace, scheduled for 2015. A coalition of defense contractors and universities, called NUAIR, submitted an application for a site in February.

Schumer has pledged to personally lobby the F.A.A. "over and over" to help New York win its bid.

NUAIR says its a strong contender because its members, vast military airspace available and diverse geography.

"You put it all together there are very few that have the advantages we have," Schumer said at a press conference Monday at Hancock Air Field in Syracuse, home to 174th Air National Guard Attack Wing, which operates drones.

"Once we become the center for testing this unmanned aircraft and seeing how they fit the civilian uses into our airspace, it’s going to bring hundreds of companies here," he added, touching on the economic potential of the drone business.

The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, or AUVSI, says domestic drones will rise to become a $13.6 billion national industry. It says 2,276 new jobs will be created in New York state in the next three years, amounting to a $443 million impact.

Drones are promoted for use in everything from agriculture to search and rescue operations, but privacy and safety concerns are also often raised when talking about the dawn of drones. The 174th recently began flying training missions over the city of Syracuse, while city lawmakers have begun discussing privacy issues.

The privacy debate won't get in the way of the economic benefits of drones, Schumer said, adding that industry growth and the privacy debate are not incompatible.

The site designation process has been delayed several times already, but Schumer and local officials hope a decision will be made in the next few months.