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ULC Robotics gets temporary license to test drones on EPCAL runway

The entrance to the Town of Riverhead's Enterprise

The entrance to the Town of Riverhead's Enterprise Park, on the site of the former Grumman plant off Route 25 in Calverton, is shown in 2016. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Officials with a Hauppauge-based robotics developer said they will eventually seek to conduct operations such as flight testing drones at the Enterprise Park at Calverton on a more permanent basis.

The Riverhead Town Board voted 5-0 at their April 7 regular meeting to grant a temporary license to ULC Robotics, LLC that will allow them to use a designated work area on the 7,000-foot runway of the EPCAL property for a period of six months. The company plans to conduct flight tests for their vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, or VTOL drones, at the property.

Mike Passaretti, director of aerial services with ULC Robotics, said in an interview Wednesday the company was “very delighted and very grateful” to be able to move forward.

“Literally every day and everything that we do is designed around safety first and the same thing applies to our development programs for these aircrafts, so we need to make sure that where we operate them is appropriate. And Calverton, the airfield there is just perfect for the types of testing that we need to do,” Passaretti said.

With the license agreement in place, which lasts until November, the company’s next step is to start flight tests for the drones, which are expected to start in May, Passaretti said. When asked if the company had conducted noise tests to ensure minimal disruption for nearby residents, Passaretti said they had done noise testing, and don’t expect any issues because of the small engine size and low power used to operate their drones.

Ultimately, the company seeks a more permanent arrangement at the EPCAL property, so they will monitor the pending $40 million land deal between venture group Calverton Aviation and Technology and the town, Passaretti said. ULC would have to arrange a lease agreement with the group if the deal is finalized. Passaretti said his company expects that deal to be completed.

“If it doesn’t go through or if it takes more time, we’ll work under the existing agreement that we have with the town and look for ways to extend that if it’s appropriate or when it’s appropriate,” Passaretti said.

Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said in an April 10 statement the negotiations on that deal were still ongoing.

“Concerning an EPCAL contract extension, it is an issue, which attorneys on both sides may need to work on next month when the closing date nears. We will approach that bridge when we get there. Currently, we will continue to work on the  ... [state Department of Environmental Conservation] requests which have been exhaustive. Nothing has changed from last month to this month,” Aguiar said.

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