Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt, AP
I spend most of my professional life working on matters relating to the commercialization of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAS) also known as drones. I was the author of the study outlining the economic benefits of UAS commercialization, and am the author of a forthcoming book on UAS. In addition, I am an unabashed UAS enthusiast. I was saddened when I was informed that there were attempts being made to impose additional legislation of UAS usage in Utah.
Attempts to legislate new technologies are always a tad scary to me. I can only imagine what would have happened to the Internet if Congress had gotten their hands on it in its infancy. I feel the same way about unmanned aerial vehicle legislation. Not only are these attempts short-sighted, but it seems that those who are on the forefront to impose yet one more regulation on how we live our lives seldom have technical expertise on these matters. In the plurality of the states that have introduced legislation, none of the sponsors were technically competent in these areas. Utah is not an exception to this disturbing trend.
UAS or drones are only a delivery mechanism. They are not different from any other aircraft other than the pilot is not in the cockpit and for some reason this necessitates legislation. If the concern is safety, that is a FAA issue, not a state problem.
The problem is the camera. Why does the usage of helicopters not convey the same hysteria as the usage of an unmanned vehicle?
In law enforcement, UAS will serve the same functionality as a helicopter or an airplane, except they do not cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and their operational costs are less than a tenth of what it costs to fly a helicopter. The benefits of using UAS for taxpayers are large cost savings. I suggest that if there are Utah state organizations that push for taxpayer savings they come out against this legislation.
There is a great deal at stake here economically. Utah has a growing aerospace industry that is very impressive. The states most likely to prosper from the coming commercialization of UAS will be those states that welcome new technologies and have an aerospace base like Utah. These jobs will require technical proficiency and will be high-paying.
Let me offer an alternative. For legislators to be able to pass legislation regarding any new technologies, they must first of all show technical competence in the proposed area. Let them also discuss in the legislation the unintended consequences of what they are doing. If there are, let the legislator post a bond to cover the potential damage. Better yet, let the state pass a resolution welcoming new technologies and the economic benefits that flow down from them like your progressive neighbor to the north (Idaho).
Darryl Jenkins is an airline analyst with more than 30 years of experience in the aviation industry. As an independent consultant, he has consulted for the FAA, DOT, NTSB and other U.S. government agencies.