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FAA gives OK to local company to start drone testing at Griffiss

By ANNA MEILER

ROME, N.Y. (WKTV) -- Drones got the all clear for take off Thursday after the Federal Aviation Administration handed a certificate of authorization to a local company to start testing their unmanned aircraft.

"One of our hopes is the Mohawk Valley and Oneida County will become a center for drones for testing, for research and eventually manufacturing and this is a great step," said Senator Chuck Schumer, (D) New York.

Drones can be developed for delivering packages or assisting law enforcement, but the first drones tested at Griffiss Airport will be for agriculture, the number one industry in Oneida County.

"That's an industry that needs help, so the unmanned aircraft in looking at ways in which it can help with various crops, detecting different insects, keeping crops and plants safer and looking at the lay of the land, literally from that level," said Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente.

The drones will be tested on a western New York farm, flying no higher than 400 feet off the ground. The head of the project, Bill Verbeten, a regional Agronomist at Cornell Cooperative Extension, says this will revolutionize the farming industry, helping farmers make smarter decisions in an ever challenging field. But, Verbeten says it will be at least five years until farmers start using drones as a common tool. First, the FAA needs to make commercial rules for drones.

But, the regional economic impact will be much sooner.

"It creates opportunity, it creates investment, it creates jobs, it creates a real benefit on the educational level," said Picente.

"There are many companies that want to test drones and so we're the place to go. In the short run, it's going to mean a good number of jobs, but in the long run if we're successful, it could mean thousands of jobs," said Senator Schumer.

A safety review board, as well as a flight plan will be created, which takes about two weeks. Once that process is finished, test flights on behalf of Cornell Cooperative Extension will be coordinated.

There are five other companies hoping to receive certificates of authorization. Those applications are still pending.

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