A bill that would make it easier to build drone ports and make it harder for local governments to oppose them is currently being considered by lawmakers in the state of Florida. This development comes on the heels of Walmart's rollout of a drone delivery service in several cities during the previous year.
The bill was approved by the House transportation subcommittee, and if passed, it would exempt delivery drone ports in Florida from the state's Building and Fire codes. Additionally, it would prohibit governments from withholding business tax receipts or occupational licenses in order to prohibit drone delivery services based on the location of the drone port.
During the meeting on Friday, Republican Representative Spencer Roach presented the bill on behalf of the bill's sponsor, Democratic Representative Wyman Duggan.
Emerging drone tech justifies new bill to ease regulations
Drones are a “new emerging technology,” according to Roach, so the new bill is required because of this fact. He compared them to when Uber and Lyft were just starting out, before they became popular and altered the way that people get around.
“I just don't think that when the building code was written back in 1974, they possibly envisioned that you would have a company operating small, individual aircraft delivering things,” he reportedly said. “We're trying to match the law with the current technology.”
Since December of last year, the drone delivery service provider DroneUp has already begun delivering groceries from Walmart to customers in a number of cities in the state of Florida. These cities include Tampa, Clermont, Cypress Gardens, Brandon, and New Port Richey.
Customers within a one-mile radius of certain Walmart stores can take advantage of a drone delivery service for a fee of $3.99.
At this time, DroneUp operates its devices out of temporary, small tents located in Walmart parking lots. However, the company plans to construct permanent homes for the drones in the near future.
According to Roach, in order to construct a permanent structure, which he likened to looking like “a wide chimney,” a drone tower needs to have a stand-alone ladder in addition to a fire suppression system. This is required in order for the structure to be considered safe. In the event that the bill is signed into law, these particular requirements of the building and fire codes would not be enforced.
“The cost to build a separate stairwell and a fire suppression system in these small things…is over a $1 million, so it's really cost prohibitive,” said Roach, a Republican from North Fort Myers.
Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat who represents Orlando, questioned Roach over the expense of constructing drone towers, which Roach stated was greater than one million dollars.
Eskamani asked, “How is that cost prohibitive for a large corporation like Walmart that has billions of dollars in revenue every single year?”
In answer, Roach stated that he was aware of three conflicts in Central Florida in which the respective municipal governments stood up for themselves. According to Roach, in order to obtain permission for a temporary operation, Osceola County demanded that Walmart go through a pre-application procedure that was both “time-consuming and costly.”
Before allowing a temporary drone operation, Seminole County required approval from its zoning and planning division, and Orange County requested an amendment to a land-use plan in order to allow a temporary space for drones to operate. Both of these requirements were in place to ensure compliance with local regulations.
Legislators discussed drones, with some of them viewing them as a potential answer to the problem of having too many vehicles on the road. This would be the case if more deliveries and shopping were done by air. Others voiced their alarm about the increasing number of drones that are causing disturbances in the neighborhoods around.
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