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Drones: Big Business or Big Brother?

By JOLEEN FERRIS

ROME, N.Y. (WKTV) - Griffiss International Airport in Rome, along with partner base Cape Cod in Massachessetts, is one of six sites chosen nationwide by the FAA to do drone testing for civilian applications. The research done in Rome will establish safety standards for the integration of unmanned aircraft into U.S. airspace.

 Some see dollar signs, new jobs and more work for companies already in the area. Others see uncertainty, trial and potentially dangerous error.

"Google drone crashes and see how many crashes there have been that we never heard of. I was amazed at the number of crashes that are out there," says Nelson Maldonado, or Rome.

Drones anywhere from 55 pounds to several thousand pounds will be tested from ground-level to heights of 50 thousand feet over central New York. They'll be tested for civilian applications such as agriculture, crop monitoring and surveillance of natural and weather disasters. NUAIR is the conglomerate formed to secure the testing for Rome. Now, their focus shifts to collecting the data which will establish the safety standards for the industry and also commercialization of the industry. Officials at NUAIR says Romans aren't the only ones concerned about safety.

"Well first of all, we're concerned, too," says Lawrence Brinker, Executive Director of NUAIR Alliance.

 Brinker says that people have to remember: an unmanned aircraft still has a very skilled, capable pilot at the controls.

"An unmanned aerial system is the same as a manned system except we've taken the pilot from the aircraft and put him on the ground," says Brinker, adding that privacy concerns are also addressed at length.

"We have to have a privacy plan and that privacy plan has to be public....and for people who don't think there are any, they just have to take a look. There's all types of peeping Tom laws, there's all kinds of restrictions," says Brinker.

 Job creation is a priority for Congressman Richard Hanna. Hanna becomes frustrated when people question what he feels is a golden opportunity that can redefine the area's employment landscape.

"There's always naysayers and there's always somebody who, 'not in my backyard',"  says Congressman Richard Hanna.

 "The goal is to replace the jobs that Griffiss lost but replace them with real, substantive, middle class jobs and pay people well and everything else around here can grown," added Hanna.

 Although drone testing has not yet begun in Rome, area businesses that stand to make money off of the industry are already getting calls from drone manufacturers and drone part manufacturers.

 "They contacted us because they know what's going to happen in the area and they asked us to quote some parts for them and work with them on producing some parts for their optic side to the drones," said John Piseck, of CTM in Frankfort.

 Piseck was expected to meet with NUAIR officials Thursday to discuss what the local company might be able to do for their clients.

Those who welcome drone testing and its anticipated economic development opportunities say that now, elected officials have to push for state and federal grants to help set up testing programs at Griffiss.
   
 

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