Texas Unmanned Aerial Aircraft Device Update
In my last blog on drones in December 2020, I wrote about the federal suit members of the media have brought regarding First Amendment challenges to Texas drone laws, found in Chapter 423 of the Texas Government Code. [National Press Photographers Assoc, et al v. Steven McCraw, Director of DPS] The case is scheduled for trial on October 25, 2021 in U.S. District Court in Austin, Texas. Given a pandemic has intervened since the date of filing of the suit, it is likely trial will be delayed. No news regarding settlement/resolution of that federal suit to date and no action by Texas lawmakers in the ongoing 2021 legislative session to address the constitutionality of drone laws in Texas. Texas legislators in 2021 had their attention focused on issues other than unmanned aerial devices or “drones”.
In light of the failure of the Texas power grid in February 2021, there were several laws passed and signed by the governor. Senate Bill 28 titled Resilience of Electric Grid passed in the Senate and was referred to the State Affairs Committee in the House but appears to be dead; it did reference drones as a possible threat to the electric grid. Other drone activity overall in Texas involves the ability of drones making medical deliveries. Specifically, the delivery of vaccines for Covid-19. There are no drone deliveries of the vaccine occurring in the United States yet; however, the FAA is currently considering route approval for medical drone deliveries in Texas.
In April 2020, the FAA enabled drone use for Covid-19 response efforts and issued a Certificate of Authorization to allow drone operators to transport goods, medical supplies, test kits, prescription drugs, and in narrow circumstances, blood. There are two companies in the United States operating drones with medical delivery partnerships, “Draganfly” and “Volansi”. Draganfly has an agreement with a Houston company Coldchain (that specializes in transporting chilled health care products) for drone delivery. Drone delivery of refrigerated medications and vaccines is occurring now in North Carolina due to a business relationship between Merck and Volansi.
In Houston, Coldchain has invested the funds necessary to develop a 12-inch cube shaped thermal container capable of being carried by Draganfly’s drones. In fact, earlier this month Draganfly started training EMS drone delivery support personnel right here in my Houston neighborhood, Spring Branch, as a part of its agreement with Coldchain. When the program starts the drone operators will be assisting first responders, firefighters, search and rescue and medical personnel in transporting critical equipment and medical supplies and critical data to emergency and disaster relief operations. This part of the Gulf Coast recognizes that need particularly as yet another hurricane slams into Louisiana.
Lastly, municipalities in Texas are gradually adopting ordinances regarding regulating drone usage despite the constitutional challenge to the state statute. Houston has adopted park regulations for drone usage, and cities such as Austin Texas have a permitting process in place for drone usage during special events in addition to their drone regulations. All city regulation and state regulation of drones is subject to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Regulations, and to get started all drone operators must register their drone with the FAA.
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