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Texas City Delays Decision on Drone Deliveries

On Monday, the Plano City Council tabled an item to amend zoning that would allow for unmanned aircraft drone delivery from commercial drone delivery hubs and air taxi operation within the city.

A drone used to demonstrate Deuce Drones' approach to aerial delivery is displayed on a landing target mat after a flight on Aug. 13, 2020.
Lawrence Specker | LSpecker@AL.c
(TNS) — On Monday, the Plano City Council tabled an item to amend zoning to allow for unmanned aircraft drone delivery from commercial drone delivery hubs and air taxi operation within the city.

Council plans to revisit the matter at a Feb. 26 council meeting. Before making a decision, council members want to gain a better understanding of how the drone delivery operations work either through a video with explanations or through visiting existing drone delivery hubs in person.

“We had the opportunity as a council to meet in person to see the operations in two different areas one in Frisco one in Plano, unfortunately it was a couple days before Thanksgiving, so we had a lot of us gone,” Mayor John B. Muns said during the meeting. “We still need some of that information so we’re respectfully hoping that we can table this item until we can get some real data that can be analyzed and explained to us… If we could get that information and come back with a much better understanding of what you’re asking for.”

This comes after the Planning and Zoning Commission began discussions with DroneUp a little over a year ago after the drone delivery company expressed a desire to operate in the city. The commission held a public hearing and previously recommended approval of the ordinance with a vote of 6-2.

DroneUp has 34 locations in six different states across the nation, including 11 in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and is already operating out of a Walmart Neighborhood Market on Custer Road in Plano, even though it is not a permitted use. DroneUp received a notice of violation, but the city held off on any further enforcement due to the discussions underway at the council, according to Christina Sebastian, land records planning manager with the city.

When choosing the right location, DroneUp considers factors such as airspace issues, weather, community openness to drones/ accessibility of bringing the technology to the area and home density.

Use-specific regulations outlined in the proposed zoning amendments include standards addressing the size, location and screening of the drone staging areas, buffer requirements between staging areas and sensitive land uses and parking and loading requirements.

Yet, the city is limited primarily to regulating land use — including location of the hubs and other ground-based facilities. Flight paths, flight altitude, number of flights or packaging contents are all regulated under the Federal Aviation Administration.

Main concerns with drone delivery include noise and privacy. However, DroneUp’s COO, Anthony Vittone said the drones aren’t louder than a neighbor’s leaf blower or a delivery truck driving down the street, and while the drones have a camera, it is only used for navigation purposes and to ensure it is safe to maneuver the product to the ground as the drone hovers about 80 feet in the air during delivery.

The company’s drones are about 45 pounds and the package weight limit is 10 pounds. Even with that weight limit, about 70% of the products in a Walmart are available for drone delivery, Vittone said.

Vittone pointed to the societal benefits of drone delivery including helping to deliver over-the-counter medicine to people who can’t or don’t feel like leaving their homes. The service can also help people with disabilities or mobility challenges, elderly people and more.

“We could soon be at a place where you do an online appointment with your doctor, he or she calls in a prescription into your pharmacy, the pharmacy delivers it and over the entire transaction you haven’t left your couch,” Vittone said.

Vittone also noted that drone delivery helps with reducing carbon emissions and wear-and-tear on roads.

“I believe in about five years it’s going to be completely ubiquitous… We’re probably going to get to a place where eventually people are going to think it’s crazy that we used a 3,00 pound car to deliver a 10 pound package,” he said.

The city has also looked into the operations of Amazon Prime Air and Causey Aviation Unmanned and received letters of interest from companies and agencies, including the Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) and the Small UAV Coalition.

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