Unmanned aerial systems could be tested in Utah

Posted at 9:44 PM, Sep 03, 2013
and last updated 2013-09-03 23:44:33-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- State economic leaders are campaigning to make Utah the home of a new drone program.

The federal government is looking for six test sites for the development of unmanned airplane use by local government and service agencies.

Dr. Wayne Dornan says the launch of unmanned vehicles is the biggest thing in aerospace since the Wright Brothers.

“This is as important as it was when they discovered flight a little more than 100 years ago,” Dornan said.

Dornan, Dean of the College of Aviation and Public Services at Utah Valley University, says unmanned aerial systems (UAS) have unlimited potential with applications ranging from agriculture and forestry to firefighting and search and rescue.

“It is going to fundamentally change the face of aviation in the United States and in the world,” Dornan said.

The Governor’s Office of Economic Development has proposed four potential test sites to the Federal Aviation Administration, areas near Promontory, Green River, Delta and Milford.

State Economic Development Director Spencer Eccles says the UAS test program would create thousands of high-paying aerospace jobs.

“We’ve estimated over a period of 10 years, 23,000 jobs,” Eccles said.

And the bottom line?

“We know it’s going to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and new tax revenues for the state,” Eccles said, “which is going to help everything in the state, from education to infrastructure development and growth.”

And edcUTAH (Economic Development Corporation of Utah) President Jeff Edwards says even if the state gets passed over by the FAA, Utah still has a big future in unmanned airplanes.

“That’s where aerospace is going,” Edwards said, “And I think we, among all the other states, want to be in the middle of that. It’s a nice opportunity.”

Even though unmanned aerial systems are the child of military technology, Dornan says terms like ‘spying’ and ‘drones’ are four-letter words when talking about future applications of the technology in the United States.

“We don’t even use the 'd' word. I’m not even going to say it,” Dornan said. “And we definitely don’t use the 's' word.”

Several states have already enacted laws governing UAS, in some cases limiting their use to law enforcement, or public service agencies.

But edcUTAH says Utah has no such restrictions on unmanned planes, something they hope will work in the state’s favor when the FAA evaluates its test site proposal.

Eccles says the FAA will choose the sites by the end of the year.