Even as commercial drone delivery services become increasingly available across Texas, some Plano City Council members are apprehensive about allowing expansion of that market in the Collin County community.
“This is a very, very new industry,” Place 5 Council Member Shelby Williams said during an October 23 meeting. “We’re probably only scratching the surface of considerations here. I’m struggling to identify the problem this is meant to solve.”
His remarks came after Christina Day, Plano’s director of planning, explained that council members must first redefine some sections of Plano’s zoning ordinance before commercial drones are allowed to operate there. She stressed, though, 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 … (on) how we are able to integrate that into our ordinances because of FAA regulations,” Place 3 Council Member Rick 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,” 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.”
Day said Plano staff members have been discussing commercial drone delivery since 2022.
“Cities can regulate the location of hubs and other ground-based facilities, so we’ve been really looking at the land-use elements of these regulations,” she said. “We did need new definitions to address drone delivery … for large drones of 55 pounds and over.”
The city has allowed commercial drone use for some retailers and restaurants with “package-type deliveries,” Day 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 citizens without their permission in the aftermath of an apartment fire.