Updated with FAA response.
The multistate organization developing a flight corridor for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in central New York has named the FAA’s top UAS executive as its CEO. Former U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Marke “Hoot” Gibson will start his new job on November 13, the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research (NUAIR) Alliance announced.
Gibson has served as the FAA’s senior advisor on UAS integration, reporting to the deputy administrator. The FAA appointed him to the position in September 2015 and simultaneously named agency veteran Earl Lawrence director of the UAS Integration Office, reporting through the Aviation Safety organization. Until that time, one senior executive had spearheaded the FAA’s management of unmanned aircraft. (In response to an inquiry, the FAA said it had not selected a successor to Gibson.)
Gibson served in the Air Force from 1978 to 2011, retiring as a two-star general. He was rated by the service as a command pilot, having flown both fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft.
NUAIR Alliance is a not-for-profit corporation representing private, public and academic entities in New York, Massachusetts and Michigan. The alliance is based at Griffiss International Airport in Rome, New York, a former Air Force base the FAA designated in December 2013 as one of six national UAS test-range bases, joining an existing site run by New Mexico State University.
In December 2015, under a revitalization initiative advanced by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), the state awarded the central New York region $500 million in economic development funding, half of which it earmarked for infrastructure spending on UAS and “connected systems” over five years. Last year, Cuomo announced a $30 million grant under the initiative to start development of a 50-mile, low-altitude UAS flight corridor between Rome and Syracuse, a project NUAIR Alliance is managing.
NUAIR Alliance is basing the corridor design on the NASA-led UAS Traffic Management (UTM) system concept, which organizes drone traffic at low altitude and supports operations beyond the pilot’s visual line of sight, which the FAA currently does not allow. NASA and NUAIR Alliance are collaborating through two Space Act agreements, Ray Young, the organization’s technical director, told the recent Air Traffic Control Association conference at National Harbor, Maryland.
Gibson will lead NUAIR Alliance's oversight of UAS testing activities in the three states, as well as work on the 50-mile UTM corridor, the organization said in an October 18 announcement. He takes over from Lawrence Brinker, a former Air Force colonel who served as NUAIR Alliance interim president and CEO during the search process. Brinker remains the organization’s executive director and general counsel.
“My vision is to create an unsurpassed ‘innovation friendly’ environment for UAS research, testing and operation,” Gibson stated in the announcement. “With all of our state economic and technical support, I think we are well positioned to become the most favored site for all aspects of UAS testing and operation. We already won a tough competition to become one of our nation’s seven test sites and we are now poised to take that capability to the next level. I can assure you, I wouldn’t have taken this position if I didn’t think we were ready.”