Guard Officials Push to Move Drone Flights from Fort Drum to Syracuse

New York Air National Guard officials are still pushing to move most of their drone flights from Fort Drum to Syracuse, which they say will save money and lost flight time.

Col. Mike Smith, assistant vice commander of the Air National Guard's operations at Hancock Field, said the service is working with the Federal Aviation Administration to make the change, as it is not now allowed to conduct takeoffs and landings from there.

If such a move were to happen, Fort Drum's airspace would still be needed for the unit's armed training missions with its MQ-9 Reaper drone aircraft, he said.

Col. Smith spoke about the proposed change of operations while at an unmanned aircraft system conference this past weekend at the Turning Stone Resort in Verona, according to WSKG.

He said the change, which would cut down on daily transports of personnel from Syracuse to Fort Drum's Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield, would save the unit about $1 million each year.

The Air National Guard and its 174th Attack Wing have been pushing the movement of flights for years, claiming that such a move would also cut down on canceled flights.

The Guard unit has flown at Fort Drum's airfield since October 2011, with locally based crew members remotely operating the drones during takeoff and landing and Syracuse-based pilots taking over via satellite once in the air. Maintenance of the aircraft also has been done at the local airfield.

Since December 2012, the unit has been cleared to perform armed missions with the aircraft at Fort Drum's ranges. The wing loads the 10,500-pound Reaper aircraft with 500-pound laser-guided bombs for training.

The Fort Drum-area Reaper mission has about 25 to 30 airmen, who Guard officials have said would move to Hancock if such a switch were to take place.

The unit has received about $10 million for hangar facilities for its Reapers on the post.

The Air Force Reaper drones have since been joined at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield by the Army's smaller Gray Eagle drone. A company flying the aircraft was activated at the post in July 2014, as a part of an Armywide plan to place them across the service.

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