DFW City Remains Undecided on Drones

Wing delivery drone with package
Wing delivery drone with package | Image by Wing/Facebook

Plano City Council members remain cautious about a company’s plans to use commercial drones in the Collin County community, choosing to delay voting on an ordinance amendment that would authorize certain unmanned aerial vehicle operations.

“We had an opportunity as council to meet in person to see the operations of two different areas — one in Frisco and one in Plano,” Mayor John Muns said during a council meeting last week. “Unfortunately, it was a couple of days before Thanksgiving, so a lot of us were gone. We still need some of that information, so respectfully, [I’m] hoping we can table this item, get some real video that can be analyzed and explained to us.”

Place 3 Council Member Rick Horne said that watching videos of how the drones would allegedly be used is insufficient.

“I would rather see it in person because one of [the] concerns I have is the noise and the video” cannot substitute for real-time analysis of how residents might be impacted by it, he claimed.

Council members agreed to table voting on the ordinance amendment until February 26.

More than a month earlier, Place 5 Council Member Shelby Williams called commercial drone delivery “a very, very new industry,” saying that city officials were “probably only scratching the surface of considerations.”

During the same October 23 meeting, as previously reported by The Dallas Express, Christina Day, Plano’s director of planning, explained that council members must first redefine some sections of the city’s zoning ordinance before commercial drones are allowed to operate in the jurisdiction. She stressed, however, that municipalities have little regulatory control over the market.

“There are some very specific areas that cities cannot regulate,” she said. “There’s preemption by the Federal Aviation Administration. Flights paths, altitude, number of flights, package content … are very much restricted, so we have been cooperating through the city attorney’s office with the attorneys from the FAA to review these standards.”

A public hearing was scheduled for that same meeting before officials voted to table it until November 27. That decision followed some council members voicing concerns over safety and noise pollution.

“When you start bringing in air taxi, it makes it a little bit more complicated … how we are able to integrate that into our ordinances because of FAA regulations,” Horne said. “Are you starting to see a need, or has someone actually come to the planning department to discuss these air taxis?”

Day said that by definition, in this instance, large drones are considered those weighing at least 55 pounds. Small drones weigh less than that.

“We don’t currently have a request for that [air taxi] use,” she said. “The date we have is 2025 for the emerging technology. We thought if we were going to address this issue, we might as well look at it kind of wholesale. We have done research on that,” including the similarities between helicopters and air taxis and how definitions in the zoning ordinance should be defined for helipads and helistops.

Based in Palo Alto, California, Wing has had “many conversations with officials across the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex over the past year,” company spokesperson Jacob Demmitt told The Dallas Express.

“Drone delivery is relatively new, and as a company with extensive experience implementing residential services, we welcome the opportunity to answer any questions about it. The City of Plano has expressed interest in how to integrate drone delivery services into their community, and we’re excited to participate in that conversation,” he said.

In the Dallas area, Wing has already partnered with Walmart for residential delivery services.

As previously reported by The Dallas Express, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court recently determined that a Texas law preventing drone photography of private citizens and property is indeed constitutional, overturning an earlier lower court ruling that claimed unlimited aerial surveillance of private citizens on private land was protected by the First Amendment.

Originally filed in 2019, the lawsuit was in reaction to a drone photographer being warned of violating Texas law for using unmanned aerial surveillance on private residents without their permission in the aftermath of an apartment fire.

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