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Cuomo announces $30 million airstrip for drone traffic testing in central NY

Tom Magnarelli
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney and President and CEO of Empire State Development Howard Zemsky in Syracuse on Thursday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a $30 million dollar airstrip that will test unmanned aircraft or drones will be built in central New York. The flight traffic management system is part of an overall push to drive the drone industry into the region.

Speaking at the Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management Convention in Syracuse, Cuomo said the airstrip is an investment in an industry that is going to be developed somewhere, so why not here.

“We believe that’s going to be very effective in luring these companies, because they need that facility,” Cuomo said. “There’s not a lot of places you can find a 50-mile airstrip to test drones. You don’t run across them everyday.”

Onondaga County is home to radar and sensor companies used by drones. County Executive Joanie Mahoney said industry leaders say they need the infrastructure to test and create the traffic rules for commercial drones.

“Amazon, your local pizza place, there are no rules in place for how that traffic is managed," Mahoney said. "We know that traffic is managed at higher altitudes with the military, but this whole new industry is being created.”

It’s an industry that could be worth a trillion dollars. President and CEO of Empire State Development Howard Zemsky said they are committed to building on the area's strategic assets.

"You already have a lot of sensor and related technology companies here in the region," Zemsky said. "You really have a growing, dynamic industry that needs this type of traffic management testing system. By putting in the public infrastructure, you can be assured that the governor is intent on attracting private investment. At a conference like this, you have companies like Amazon, Google, Intel and others. It's not everyday that you've got representatives of the fastest growing, largest tech companies in the world right here in Syracuse. This is a very important conference. It says a lot about the credibility this industry puts in central New York that they host their conference here, the first one at NASA, the second one in Syracuse."

Money awarded through the Upstate Revitalization Initiative will be used to build the airstrip by 2018.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.