Two Texas Cities Pave the Way for Drone Delivery: Cities and Providers Discuss What that Means

wing and Walmart drone delivery, Wing new hires, DRONEII top service provider,DeFli Walmart UAS PartnershipTwo more Texas cities pass regulations making drone deliveries possible

By DRONELIE Features Editor Jim Magill

Two cities in North Texas have recently taken steps to pave the way for Walmart to continue to expand its drone delivery operations across the greater Dallas/Fort Worth area.

The city of North Richland Hills, about 14 miles east of Fort Worth, late last month approved drone take-off and landing spots at two Walmart store locations. On February 26, the City Council of Plano, about 20 miles north of Dallas, approved a change to the city’s zoning ordinance, regulating drone delivery hubs as a new land-use category.

Both moves come in response to Walmart’s ambitious plans to expand its drone deliveries to 75% of the DFW area by the end of this year. In January, the retail giant said it would expand its UAV delivery services to its stores across more than 30 towns and municipalities in the metroplex, in partnership with on-demand drone delivery providers Wing and Zipline.

In an interview, North Richland Hills City Manager Mark Hindman said the city amended its zoning ordinance to allow the two Walmart locations to each set aside a portion of their parking lots to convert the space into drone takeoff and landing areas.

“It’s somewhat experimental. They’re doing it in some other places, but they’re just kind of refining the concept,” he said.

The change will allow drone deliveries to originate within the city limits for the first time and Hindman said the majority of the town’s residents seem to be on board with the new delivery service option.

“We received one letter in opposition and there’s been some questions and concerns that have been expressed by residents. But for the most part, the residents seem to be ready and open to this type of service,” he said. “I think people just assume that this is the direction that delivery of small items will take in the future.”

In Plano, officials went a step further than those in other DFW metroplex cities, creating a distinct land-use designation for future drone operations. This development is expected to make it easier to attract drone delivery services from not only those UAV operators associated with Walmart, but from other service providers as well.

“Walmart did submit one application during the review, but we held that, because we couldn’t process it until after Council had adopted the ordinance amendments,” Plano Senior Planner Jordan Rockerbie said. City officials initially had been approached last year by Droneup, another one of Walmart’s drone delivery partners, in regard to changing the town’s zoning ordinance.

“We have also been approached by Wing, who is also partnering with Walmart in the DFW area. We have met with Zipline, another Walmart partner, and we’ve met with Flytrex as well. But they didn’t have a plan of location in mind at the time that we met with them,” Rockerbie said.

In crafting the ordinance, city officials were concerned about the noise that delivery drones would make upon takeoff and landing, and so wrote regulations to establish specific locations on a site, which are referred to as drone staging areas. The adopted ordinance establishes location restrictions, both as to where the staging area can be on the property itself, as well as minimum distances between the staging area and residences.

While the ordinance does not establish specific noise levels, drone operations must comply with the same decibel level thresholds in the citywide noise ordinance as other businesses, Rockerbie said.

Prior to adopting the new ordinance, city leaders held a number of public meetings to gauge the public’s reaction to the plan, which will open up the city for increased drone deliveries.

“We didn’t receive much in the way of feedback,” he said. “We had three people speak at meetings and one, possibly two emails.” These few responses to the proposed ordinance were split about 50/50 on the issue.

“It might be a very different story once the operators establish themselves and we see these aircraft in the sky. We might have a very different result once we see them operating,” Rockerbie said.

The DFW region is on the leading edge of drone operations and advanced air mobility, and different municipalities have responded to the growth in drone delivery operations in a variety of ways, he said.

“It’s been a mixed bag of how they regulate them in their zoning. Some of them are regulating them as heliports; some of them are regulating them just as part of the delivery logistics, no different than say, Uber Eats or other forms of delivery,” he said.

Walmart DFW Drone Delivery Expansion, DeFli Walmart UAS PartnershipWalmart DFW Drone Delivery Expansion, DeFli Walmart UAS PartnershipIn its statement announcing plans to expand its drone delivery operations in the DFW area, Walmart said it has the largest drone delivery footprint of any U.S. retailer. Its expansion in the DFW metroplex region marks the first time a U.S. retail chain has offered drone delivery to such a large number of households in a single market.

Over the last two years of conducting drone deliveries on a trial basis, Walmart has completed more than 20,000 safe deliveries, the company said.

“This expansion will bring the ultimate convenience of drone delivery to communities across the DFW area,” said Prathibha Rajashekhar, Walmart’s senior vice president, of innovation & automation. “Drone delivery is not just a concept of the future; it’s happening now and will soon be a reality for millions of additional Texans.”

Both Wing and Zipline have received FAA certification to conduct beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone flights, making deliveries across large areas possible.

Wing has four years of conducting commercial residential service in the U.S. and on three continents.

“Our first few months delivering to Walmart customers have made it clear: Demand for drone delivery is real,” said Wing CEO Adam Woodworth.

Zipline, the largest autonomous delivery company in the world, provides fast, precise and convenient deliveries to health systems, restaurants and retailers around the world.

“Zipline is excited to enable Walmart’s vision of providing customer delivery so fast it feels like teleportation,” said Keller Rinaudo Cliffton, co-founder and CEO of Zipline.

Jim mug2Jim mug2Jim Magill is a Houston-based writer with almost a quarter-century of experience covering technical and economic developments in the oil and gas industry. After retiring in December 2019 as a senior editor with S&P Global Platts, Jim began writing about emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, robots and drones, and the ways in which they’re contributing to our society. In addition to DroneLife, Jim is a contributor to Forbes.com and his work has appeared in the Houston Chronicle, U.S. News & World Report, and Unmanned Systems, a publication of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

Miriam McNabbMiriam McNabb

Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry.  Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.

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