S2,E4 - Jason Terreri and Ken Stewart

Posted on February 21, 2024

Talk CNY - Season 2, Episode 4 - NUAIR

This is Talk CNY, presented by NBT Bank, a semi-monthly podcast by CenterState CEO, Central New York's premier leadership and economic development organization. Join us as we meet the people and explore the projects driving the regional economy forward.

Thanks for joining us for Talk CNY, presented by NBT Bank. I'm Katie Zilcosky, CenterState CEO's, director of communications and your host for Talk CNY. Syracuse Hancock International Airport is one of the fastest growing airports in the country. Air traffic is up 20 to 25% over 2019, which was the airport's busiest year on record. And the number of available airline seats is up in 2024, over 2023 numbers. And there's no sign of slowing down. Competitive air service is important to economic development. It helps businesses connect to their customers and clients all over the world, and it supports efforts to attract talent. But the Syracuse Hancock International Airport is not only expanding commercial air service, it's also innovating in the spaces of advanced air mobility and uncrewed aerial systems. To learn more about all of this growth and innovation, the Talk CNY team went out to the airport to talk with Syracuse Hancock International Airport's executive director Jason Terreri. Jason, thank you for being here with us today.

Glad to be here. Great.

So the Syracuse air service landscape is categorized by growth right now, increasing demand, more service being announced. So what are some of the standout metrics for you guys? What are you kind of tracking and looking at that really makes you go, this is a period of growth for us?

So a couple things with the airline. We look at how much capacity they're adding into the market and where they're adding the new flights. So sometimes they're added into new destinations, others are into different time channels at the existing hubs. So what we track is that growth and how quickly they're adding. We actually watch it on a week-to-week basis. And give you an example, this January compared to last January, we're actually up 30%, which is completely outpacing what is the national trend right now of just over about 6%.

I mean, is that 30%? I mean, like you said, that's way higher growth than the national average. Is that kind of been the norm for before even January? Has this been a very accelerated exponential growth period?

Yeah, so it has really been faster this whole past year. So all of 2023. So we finished 2023, about 14% above where we were last year in 2022. And believe it or not, 25% above 2019 levels. So pre-pandemic and what's causing a lot of that is the shift in the airline industry where the airlines are not going back into some of the smaller airports and the airlines are consolidating their service and capacity into Syracuse.

Now a growing airport needs investments. So how are some of the investments that you guys are currently making, how will they impact travelers or just people generally in the Central New York area? How will they interact differently with the Syracuse Airport?

So we're doing several expansions right now, and the next five years is going to be a tremendous amount of construction at this airport. Starting this next year, we're doing terminal expansions on both the north and south concourse. We are just completing a checkpoint expansion, and then we are looking to do a complete redesign of our land side, so all the parking roadways, and that's about a $260 million project.

So I want to move on a little bit to Advanced Air Mobility or AAM Syracuse is one of, if not the first and only airport that has AAM considerations in its master plan. Can you tell me why that was so important to you all and what AAM will help you guys to do?

So we were the first to really plan, have it included in our airport master plan. Since then, some other airports in other regions have started to plan for it as well. But for us, really what it gives, what really spurred it was the fact that we are the only airport in North America that has completely integrated drones operating among commercial traffic. So it just makes sense that, how do you do the proof of concept for infrastructure? We do it at an airport like this. So that's why we started it. And what it's going to allow for us to do is a couple of things. We see advanced air mobility as a solution to regional connectivity where the airlines have pulled out of markets or significantly reduced service, but it also opens up communities that have never had service, that don't have an airport, that now you can have a much easier connection into a commercial airport that would offer access to airline networks.

So how would that work? I mean, how would a place that doesn't have air access right now get air access through AAM?

So effectively think of it as a bus, right? That's the model that we've talked about with a lot of folks. You could have a land transport between one community to the airport. Advanced air mobility - it creates an affordable access that you could take off from a community, be off the roads, you're not parking in an airport, and then you land and have it easy right into a checkpoint just as if you were arriving by car.

Now, advanced air mobility really plays into all of the UAS development that is also happening just upstairs at NUAIR. How is that partnership working for you guys and how do you guys kind of work together to create even further developments in this space?

Well, it's a great partnership. They are the experts in the field, and we're kind of new to it, really looking at it from an airport lens, which hasn't really been thought through. So that's one of the things that we've worked very closely with. What is it that the industry needs at an airport and on an airport? And when we learn that from the community, from the industry and NUAIR obviously being that link for us, it helps us understand how we can redevelop the airport or look at the rules. We talked a lot about security earlier, how do you access the airport. There's a lot of different rules. You can't, traditional airports are always served from other airports. Advanced air mobility opens a new challenge where maybe you're accessing that airport from a community or a downtown hub. So it's a different way that we have to plan to accept passengers.

What are you excited about in 2024? We're still early in the year. How are you expecting this year to play out?

This year is going to be busy, right? We are expecting from an airline perspective, some new announcements. We had one today, but this next year is really getting ready for this expected growth that should be coming in probably the next, what, five years, right? Micron. The growth that we've talked about to date does not include Micron. None of this growth is Micron related. So layer in what we expect to have happen, not only Micron with the UAS industry, with other things happening in the region, we have to be ready for it. So it's exciting, it's an exciting challenge. And so we're going to have a lot of cool developments going on in the next three, five years.

Well, Jason, I really appreciate your time today.

No problem. No problem. Glad to be here.

Still to come on Talk CNY, we'll hear from Ken Stewart, president and CEO of NUAIR. But first a word from our presenting sponsor, NBT Bank.

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Welcome back Talk CNY, presented by NBT Bank. I'm Katie Zilcosky, director of communications at CenterState, CEO, and your host for Talk CNY. On this episode, we are taking a look at all of the growth and innovation happening at the Syracuse Hancock International Airport. While commercial traffic is setting records, the airport is also innovating in the regional airspace through a partnership with NUAIR. One of CenterState CEO's organizational partners. Opened late last year, the NUAIR Center of Excellence is a hub for the organization's work in helping to integrate uncrewed aerial systems or UAS into our current airspace. I recently spoke with NUAIR President and CEO Ken Stewart about how the partnership between NUAIR and SYR is creating a better connected airspace ecosystem. So Ken, thank you for being here with us today. The space we're in right now, the NUAIR Center of Excellence is a very new space. So can you tell me why you guys at New Air chose the Syracuse Hancock International Airport as the place to advance and develop UAS capabilities?

Sure. So most people know NUAIR for managing the test site at Griffiths for the last 10 years, and there's a huge benefit. We have a great reputation from doing that. And so coming here to Syracuse, they already have integrated airspace with the 174th flying, the MQ-9's and military drones. And so now we're fully integrated. So we have commercial, military, and commercial traffic here all flying off at this location.

Wow. And so Syracuse at large though the area Central New York, the region, why is this such a great space for the technology?

People don't realize how progressive we are here and how forward leaning we are with aviation. We have GENIUS New York, we have The Tech Garden, we have NUAIR, all these capabilities are helping us develop an ecosystem. So one of the other benefits to opening the Center of Excellence here is all the technology you see in here are all companies that have come to the UAS Jobs Fund, GENIUS New York program or residents of Tech Garden or New York based. So it really is about cultivating all the technology and the companies are coming here from international locations to be here because this is kind of the hub. And so they can now come here, be based here, and get their technology up and running in a commercial aspect. So it's not just about getting drones flying, it's about getting drones technology adopted. It's getting the companies to relocate here to get manufacturing technology, software development, aerospace engineers to really get that core relocating to this area and really building this economy soup to nuts. The program that we're doing with Le Moyne now puts students through a program where they can come out and start joining the drone economy, working for the Department of Transportation, the Thruway Authority, and some of the other agencies that we're working with. So we're really looking at this really as a kind of cradle to grave is how do we get the entire industry really centrally located here for the things that we're doing.

Now, you mentioned Advanced Air Mobility or AAM, you at NUAIR are now working with the US Air Force innovation arm and NASA to establish a digital operations center here in this space. Can you break that down for me? What does that mean? I mean, what kind of technology are you looking at to advance?

Sure. So we look at a bunch of technology. We don't specifically get aircraft. That's what the technology, we do have aircraft flying within our operational area, but we really focus on airspace integration. So how are we going to manage or support managing this next generation of aviation in the national airspace safely integrating both drones and new advanced air mobility. So what do we do? We help integrate these typical activities, the technologies, so that we can perform that safe integration. So our BVLOS operational, there's 240 miles. We're able to integrate that into the national airspace. So where you see commercial aircraft, general aviation, the drones can actually fly integrated with that airspace. And so what the Air Force came here and found out was it's very challenging to get companies onto military bases, getting them access, especially we have five different technologies all integrated. Getting all of those five companies to be coordinated and through the security process is really a challenge for them.

And so by coming here, not only do you have new air and the technology are up and running, they can actually integrate other technologies and really learn about the technology before they look to integrate it. The other piece is we've got the 174th here, which is a great asset for us to integrate with. They help facilitate some of that process with AppWorks. So really this has starting to become the destination for all things kind of advanced air mobility for the Air Force or AppWorks in terms of how they expect to manage this type of air traffic moving.

Yeah, I mean, can you expand a little bit more on the significance of setting those standards and doing that here in Central New York?

Sure. So part of the challenges of this space is everything's really based on a safety case. How do you get the safety case approved by the FAA? And so when you see this technology, it's not technology integrated for technology sake. It really does support all the underlying safety case and the integration of those aircraft. And so the benefit that happens is when you've safely integrated this and you've shown that you have the capability to do it, you can essentially rinse and repeat this process in multiple locations. So how can the DOD adopt these technologies in such a way that it's scalable, repeatable, and integrate safely into the national airspace?

So I think for a lot of people, drones or UAS technologies largely still have some mixed perception sometimes. How do you see those changing and what role does perception play in your work?

Sure. I mean, I think in 2016, 2017 when drones first started happening, everybody had a child buy a pool that they didn't want a drone taking a picture of because that was the rumor of the day or the news of the day. I think people are getting more and more used to it. I think people are now just saying, you know what? I'm not ordering something from Amazon and figuring out do I want a truck to deliver it? Do I want a car to deliver? Do I want somebody a bicycle to deliver it? I don't care. They want what they want and they want it. Now we've got Upstate University Hospital now doing a full beds-to-meds program where they're delivering medical supplies to people's homes. That saves people who may not be able to get to the pharmacy and get these medicines, be able to get them in a much more timely and much more cost-effective way in a way that actually reduces carbon emissions because we have a bunch of cars driving around doing the deliveries.

And what do you see drones role in the future being? How do you see them expanding and being in our lives?

Sure. So lots of things. We work primarily with different state agencies because they're the early adopters, law enforcement, Department of Transportation, Thruway Authority, the New York Power Authority, they use them primarily for asset inspection, infrastructure inspection, much more cost effective ways of doing this. So I'll give you a quick example. Bridge inspections require bucket trucks, somebody hanging over the side, closing lanes of traffic. None of that's required with a drone. So it's a massive reduction in cost, but a higher, but also a massive reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and a much higher level of safety, because you're not now impacting motorists on the road or the workers. So you're eliminating all those components. So you'll see that where states adoption, obviously with law enforcement and the commercial side, you'll see medical delivery, you'll see package delivery be incorporated with just upon delivery. And then we started looking at advanced air mobility.

Then you're talking about mid mile going from airport to airport, moving things, but also potentially moving people. And that's where you talk about the Jetsons, the world of the Jetsons, when we have the air taxis actually taking people to and from. But this is where next takes place when it comes to what's happening in aviation. This is what's happening here in Central New York. It's not just the U.S. is looking here. We just wrapped up a program where we were helping the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with their regulatory strategy for advanced air mobility. So really it is a global look at what's happening here in Central New. It is not just about the State of New York, but it is all centered here in terms of what's happening here. So this is where what's next.

Well, Ken, thank you so much for your time today and sharing a little bit about what you do

Here. Thank you so much. Pleasure.

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