The Oneida County Legislature Wednesday approved two resolutions that will allow the national corporation to rent and commission research on the possibility of drone delivery for orders.
″(Walmart) is working with another UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) test site; they’ve already started doing preliminary work and they’re working out West,” said Oneida County Aviation Commissioner Russell Stark. “We’re going to basically be the East Coast arm for research and development.”
The first resolution is for a lease agreement for Nose Dock 785 at Griffiss International Airport in Rome. The agreement started July 1 and will end June 30, 2018, for $84,000. Included in the lease, there are provisions for nine one-year extensions following the first year.
The other resolution is for a research services and testing agreement between the county and Walmart. The agreement is for a two-year term, ending June 30, 2019, and will bring in $1,674,816.
Legislator James D’Onofrio, who chairs the Airport Committee, said unmanned aircraft research is developing in the right direction. The county has put everything in place for drone research, so the growth can continue, he said.
“There’s even greater potential to develop unmanned aircraft systems, and I think this is just the start with Walmart,” he said. “I think they’re only going to be increasing their presence, and we really need to be ready.”
Walmart did not immediately return requests for comment.
Because of the work researchers already have done on drones through NASA, Stark said Griffiss caught Walmart’s attention.
“It says a lot about what we’ve accomplished and the reputation we’ve built in the UAS testing community,” he said. “Griffiss is a great place for Walmart to be because of our infrastructure, our people, our airport and the area.”
Stark said the research is part of their overall goal of figuring out how drones can be worked into the national airspace to help the Federal Aviation Administration.
It’s a long process, and while the goal is to get drone delivery up and going in a timely fashion, Stark isn’t convinced the two-year research and development process is enough to quite get it up off the ground.
“I think we’ll take big strides,” Stark said. “I think if we stick to our two-year plan that they’re hashing out, I think we’ll be a step closer. Will it be a reality in two years? I don’t think so, not yet. There’s just too much.”
He said not only is there legislation for the FAA to get passed and regulations that need to be figured out, there’s also safety issues to take care of — and then there’s the unknown things that pop up during testing.
Stark said the continued testing can only be positive for the area.
“It gives us recognition, for one,” he said. “Initially, they’re only going to have one or two Walmart employees on site, but you have to think of the broader picture. We’re going to be doing potential demos, which is going to bring more people in and when those people come and see the area, they’re in the UAS industry and it makes us more attractive to another potential company coming in. So that brings revenue to the area for hotels, restaurants, rental cars; that’s the big picture. And do I hope it leads to jobs? Of course.”