The Utah State legislature passed a resolution that expresses the Legislature’s interest and support of Utah’s pursuit of a test site for unmanned aircraft systems, or as they are commonly known, drones. Gov. Gary Herbert signed the resolution, HCR-3, which urges the Governor’s Office of Economic Development to determine whether a test site for UAS is feasible, and if so, urges the state to exercise all options to create said test site.
The GOED has partnered with Utah Valley University, Brigham Young University, the University of Utah, Utah State University and Weber State University to form the Mountain West Unmanned Systems Alliance. UVU is leading the alliance because of their College of Aviation and Public Safety’s resources and location at the Provo airport.
MWUSA and the GOED will evaluate test site options and expect to report back to the next legislative session in 2015.The proposal will be submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration to receive a certificate and access to designated airspace before UAS tests can begin.
Representative Val Peterson (R-Orem) is the chief sponsor of the resolution and vice president of Finance and Administration at UVU.
“The resolution essentially will be sent to the FAA to say that it’s the position of the state of Utah,” said Peterson. “[The GOED] will evaluate, see what the costs would be [and] see where it should be located. That’s what we’re asking for.”
The resolution cites a range of uses for UAS. They can be designed for gathering information for “rescue operations, aiding in the management of resources, including marine mammal and fisheries research, providing humanitarian assistance, providing a platform for scientific research and other private and public sector activities.”
Estimates are that the integration will create more manufacturing jobs (which will require technical degrees and be higher paying) and have a positive effect on local tax revenue.
Fourth Amendment rights are specified in the resolution, saying that no UAS-gathered information is admissible as evidence without a warrant. Once the site is operational, data must be reported annually. The report will cover frequency of use, organizations or agencies applying to use the site, as well as any additional information requested by the Governor’s UAS Board.
The resolution passed the House and Senate with one dissenting vote from Representative Janice Fisher (D-West Valley).
“I think there should be guidelines way before we allow people to do anything they want,” said Fisher. “The people that presented the bill actually wanted permission to test and fly drones out in the West Desert and there were no limitations whatsoever placed on those people. That was my reason for voting no. I don’t think they should have free reign. They should have guidelines.”
A separate bill, SB 167, sets some guidelines on UAS. It passed through the legislature and signed by Gov. Herbert. Representative Fisher and four others voted against the bill.
The new law also prohibits any law enforcement agency from using UAS to collect data without a warrant, establishes guidelines under which data will be retained or destroyed and institutes an annual report that must be provided by any law enforcement agency or department of public safety that uses UAS.
Unless collected data is relevant in an investigation, it must be destroyed as soon as is “reasonably possible.” Reports will disclose the number of times UAS were operated in an agency, the number of criminal investigations aided by UAS, a description of how a UAS was used, the frequency with which data was collected as well as the type of data collected, the number of times information came in from a party outside the law enforcement agency and the total cost of the UAS.
They will also report the number of issued and denied warrants. This information will be publicly available. Information pertaining to ongoing investigations will be left off the report until the investigation closes.
“The bill is more towards Fourth Amendment rights and legalization and [the resolution] is more for the private industry side and creating additional opportunities for businesses and economic development,” said Peterson.
The FAA does not allow commercial use of UAS. Drones can be used by hobbyists or if the flyer has been issued a Certificate of Authorization or an experimental certification by the FAA. A policy letter in 2007 banned the use of commercial UAS until regulations could be implemented. New regulations are expected by September 2015.
Congress passed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act in February 2012. It mandates the FAA to set up test sites in order to determine restrictions and regulations on UAS.
Six sites have been awarded in Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia. Those sites will receive priority funding from the $63.4 billion that was allocated to the law and will be distributed over four years.
Utah originally submitted a bid to be one of the test sites, but did not receive approval. Six potential sites were named (UVU and the west desert among them) and the GOED will cut that list down to one. Once a site is chosen, the GOED will determine the costs.
The resolution points to Utah’s unique terrain (with both mountainous areas and lower areas like the Bonneville Salt Flats in close proximity to each other), industry players and the relationships Utah already has with the U.S. Army and Air Force as persuading factors.