Luminati CEO Daniel Preston and other company representatives met with the town board in October 2015 to discuss using the town-owned runway. File photo: Katie Blasl

A cutting-edge aerospace company that builds solar-powered communications drones is in talks with Riverhead Town to gain controlling rights of its runway in Calverton.

The company, Luminati LLC, recently purchased the Skydive Long Island site at the Calverton Enterprise Park (EPCAL), where it plans to manufacture the drones.

An artistic rendering of the solar-powered communications drones being built by Facebook's Internet.org initiative. Image: Internet.org
An artistic rendering of the solar-powered communications drones being built by Facebook’s Internet.org initiative. Image: Internet.org

There are huge technology companies like Google and Facebook involved in the emerging industry of communications drones. Facebook launched its first full-scale communications drone in July as part of its Internet.org effort, which aims to bring wireless internet to everyone in the world – especially to those in places where internet isn’t available.

“To connect everyone in the world, we also need to invent new technologies that can solve some of the physical barriers to connectivity,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a 2013 paper explaining the Internet.org effort.

Enter Luminati – a limited liability corporation that plans to research and manufacture the drones right here in Riverhead.

Although Luminati’s CEO, Daniel Preston, said at Town Hall today that he is not at liberty to disclose his client, the company does, in fact, have a client that it’s manufacturing the drones for.

“This is so over-the-top exciting for Long Island and for Riverhead,” said Town Supervisor Sean Walter today. “Riverhead is the cradle of aviation. We took people to the moon from this location. It’s so exciting to think that once again we may be at the forefront of aviation.”

The drones Luminati will manufacture will have the ability to essentially “beam” wireless internet down onto the earth. They would fly at about 65,000 feet – above plane traffic, in unregulated airspace.

Area job growth, said Preston, could be “significant.”

“We’re creating 40 high-tech jobs immediately,” he said. “Long-term, that has a potential to be significantly larger than what it is today.”

But first, Luminati must gain controlling rights of its site’s town-owned runway that has been used by Skydive Long Island since 2000.

The runway is only allowed to be used by businesses along the runway under current town code. Though there are no other aviation businesses located there currently, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio expressed concern that future development under the proposed subdivision of the Enterprise Park might include businesses that want to use the runway as well.

Preston said the company would be “very hospitable” to any future neighbors looking to use the runway, but that it could not provide any flight schedule to the town since flights would vary day-to-day with testing.

He also said that the noise impact on neighbors would be “unnoticeable.”

Luminati is not able to begin manufacturing its assembly machines, which will take about 5 to 6 months, before a runway use agreement is secured, Preston said.

The assembly machines will also require a larger space than the existing building can accommodate, so Luminati is looking to expand that building to 40,000 square feet, which is already approved under the lot’s current site plan.

“I think the board will move very quickly to approve that for you,” Walter said. “I will schedule the meetings for the board as quickly as you can get your surveyors and your engineers and your architects to design this building.”

He hopes to have a public hearing on October 20 so that a resolution can be drafted for the town board as early as October 24.

“In order for you to be competitive, we have to be competitive as a municipality,” Walter said. “That’s my commitment and I think that board will move it along as well.”

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Katie Blasl
Katie, winner of the 2016 James Murphy Cub Reporter of the Year award from the L.I. Press Club, is a reporter, editor and web developer for the LOCAL news websites. A Riverhead native, she is a 2014 graduate of Stony Brook University. Email Katie