Utah wants to be a drone test site

Pete CodellaBusiness

The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to decide by the end of the month where it will begin testing airspace regulations for drones. Utah is hoping to be one of the six chosen test sites.

“There are great civil and commercial applications for these systems,” said Marshall Wright, the aerospace and defense cluster director for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

Utah is one of 24 states seeking to be a test site for unmanned aerial systems (UAS). The FAA is developing regulations, and it wants test sites to conduct scenarios and experiments. Unmanned aircraft have been used primarily in the military. Most recently, Amazon announced it was exploring using drones to deliver packages.

“The FAA would like to get information out of these test sites as fast as they can, because what they want to do is normalize access for unmanned systems by 2015,” Wright said.

Utah is offering several sites for potential FAA study: near Promontory Point in northern Utah; by Delta; outside Milford; and near Green River. The U.S. military is already conducting drone experiments over the Utah Test and Training Range in the West Desert.

Wright said becoming a test site could generate billions of dollars in economic revenue for Utah, as companies move in and develop unmanned aircraft (and ground-based unmanned vehicles).

“We projected that Utah, over a 10-year period, could have something like 10,000 direct jobs resulting from the economic impact of this,” he told FOX 13 News. “This is enormous.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah expressed concerns about the privacy aspect of the drone experiments across the state.

“If we become a test site, there’s going to be an increased number of drones flying around our state, and people are going to be concerned when they see these drones circling about them,” said Marina Lowe, the legislative and policy analyst for the ACLU of Utah.

The ACLU of Utah sits on an advisory committee created by Gov. Gary Herbert to look at development of unmanned aircraft. Lowe said right now, Utah has no laws that deal with drones and privacy.
Lawmakers have looked at the issue recently, but no legislation has been proposed. The ACLU said it would like to see some legislation in place protecting privacy.

“It’s not necessarily a problem that the state of Utah is moving forward with trying to be a test site designation,” said Lowe. “What we would like to see, however, is that we also try to put in place some very real privacy protections.”

Photo credit: AggieAir™