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New Corridor for Helicopter-Sized Drones Coming to Syracuse

A 260-mile corridor between Syracuse and Montreal has been approved by a consortium of international organizers in an effort to establish an “advanced air mobility” corridor for unmanned commercial cargo transport.

(TNS) — A consortium of international organizations has agreed to work together to create an air corridor for helicopter-sized drones to carry cargo — and someday people — between Syracuse, N.Y., and Montreal.

The consortium said this week it has signed a memorandum of understanding to establish an “advanced air mobility” corridor for the operation of commercial cargo transport operations using unmanned, electric-powered vertical take-off and landing aircraft, described as “large, helicopter-sized drones.”

The goal is to use the air space between Syracuse and Montreal to test and expand the use of these drones, which are being developed to carry cargo and eventually people for a few hundred miles on battery power.

Officials say these flying cargo ships — which will be capable of carrying about as much as a delivery van — could be used for mid-range deliveries between businesses, warehouses and suppliers. They could also be used to transport people between airports and other transportation facilities, according to the consortium.

For now, plans are for the aircraft to operate in a 260-mile corridor that stretches from an airport in the Montreal suburb of Mirabel to Syracuse Hancock International Airport. Approvals by the Federal Aviation Administration and Canadian aviation authorities will be required.

The consortium is being led by VPorts, a Canadian company that is making plans to build its first base for the new kind of aircraft in Mirabel. VPorts, which is based in Mirabel, says it aims to build and operate 1,500 landing and charging hubs, called “vertiports,” worldwide.

The U.S. members of the consortium are Nuair (a nonprofit organization that manages a 50-mile drone test corridor between Syracuse and Griffiss International Airport in Rome) and Syracuse Hancock International Airport. The other Canadian companies in the consortium are Aero Montreal, Innovitech, Unmanned Aerial System Centre of Excellence and Helijet International.

Nuair CEO Ken Stewart said the goal is to create an air corridor where the battery-powered aircraft can operate.

These drones are called eVTOL (short for electric-powered vertical take-off and landing). None has been certified to fly in the U.S. yet, but several companies are developing them and the first certifications from the Federal Aviation Administration are expected in 2024, Stewart said.

The first test flights of the drones are planned for 2023.

Designs of the new type of aircraft vary, but they will all use electric power to hover, take off and land vertically. Battery powered motors will turn multiple propellers, allowing the craft to take off and land like helicopters. Some will also have wings, allowing them to fly like a plane once in the air, using the same propellers or others on the rear or front of the craft to push them forward.

Stewart said such aircraft will be able to fly like planes but will not require a runway to land or take off.

“They take up a lot less space because they only need a pad, not a runway,” he said.

The craft will be “optionally piloted,” meaning they can be piloted remotely or by a pilot in the cockpit. Initially, the plans are to have a pilot onboard, he said.

He said the cargo they carry could include consumer goods and medical supplies. Because of their ability to land just about anywhere, they eventually could be used to transport cargo between distribution centers, recharging their batteries between flights, Stewart said. From the distribution centers, the cargo could be put on vans for delivery to customers, he said.

He said some of the more than 5,000 underutilized regional airports throughout the country could eventually be utilized as bases for the aircraft, assisting with cargo deliveries.

Syracuse’s airport has a lot of experience with drones. The New York Air National Guard’s 174th Attack Wing is based at the airport and has been flying unmanned MQ-9 Reaper drones from it since December 2015, when they became the first unmanned aircraft in the nation to launch from a commercial airport.

The airport is also an anchor for the 50-mile drone test corridor managed by Nuair.

Jason Terreri, the Syracuse airport’s executive director, said it makes sense for the airport to be one of the first to accommodate eVTOL aircraft.

“That’s one of our advantages,” he said. “The FAA controllers are already comfortable working with them.”

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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