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Utah lawmakers discuss need for laws about drones, air taxis

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers are gearing up for the possibility that commercial drones and even air taxis could both make life in the future much easier but complicate the state’s laws.

At a hearing Wednesday on Utah’s Capitol Hill, UDOT Director of Aeronautics Jared Esselman said the state is already considering a need for a mini-radar tracking system for things like drones.

“We know there are planned routes from point a to point b for package delivery, for aerial taxis. But what about if there’s an accident and DPS launches a drone, or there’s someone flying in their backyard?” he asked.

He also raised concerns about more businesses using drones.

“The next steps are package delivery, which Amazon is working on, Walmart is working,” he says. “Dominoes is looking at delivering pizza to your house via drone.”

 

What happens when the idea behind autonomous vehicles takes to the skies? Esselman says the state needs to consider carving out highways in the sky for the future of unmanned air travel and building a safety infrastructure for low-altitude airspace, just as the FAA governs high-altitude airspace.

Rep. Adam Robertson, R-Provo, pointed out there are other challenges as well. 100 years ago, he says, drivers had no stoplights, lane markings or off-ramps to help them navigate their terrestrial driving.

“What we need in the airspace is something similar: enablement by having highways in the sky. It’s something the state can take a role in, and enable the movement of goods and services in a more efficient way,” he says.