If the Payson Town Council has its way, Rim Country could wind up on the cutting edge of the explosive expansion in the use of pilotless drone aircraft.
The council last week unanimously voted to draw up regulations so that companies that want to make or test the unmanned aircraft can operate here.
A request from Jim DuFriend, president of Bravo Partners, triggered the action.
The council asked the Payson Airport Commission to draw up regulations, to make sure that drones can operate locally without interfering with planes using the Payson Regional Airport.
Reportedly, the drones in question would work mostly on civilian projects, like flying over fires or mapping vegetation and other resources from the air.
“We’re looking at having UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) at the Payson Airport,” said LaRon Garrett, assistant town manager. “More and more, they’re used on the civilian side. This is a business venture and they wanted to see if they could get support before they invested. We’ll have to get rules and regulations in place through the airport commission.”
Councilor Fred Carpenter asked dubiously, “Are these similar in any way to drones you see on the news?” in apparent reference to the military drones deployed in Afghanistan.
“I would think so. Yes,” said Garrett.
“But not for those purposes?” asked Carpenter.
Payson Mayor Kenny Evans jumped in to note that the drones in question would have civilian uses, like monitoring fire lines and doing surveys for timber sales and other projects. However, a recent near-miss involving an aircraft and a drone at a U.S. airport underscored the need for safety rules.
“We need to address the issue before it becomes a problem. There are some commercial opportunities for us in being on the cutting edge. The UAVs could survey and photograph the forest and determine the size and health of the trees at a cost much less than having our highly skilled and trained Forest Service traipsing through the bushes. But we need to control it in a way that’s effective.”
Evans noted that Payson could become one of a handful of sites in the state — even the nation —with advanced facilities and adequate regulations for an exploding industry.