Council Report: City talks drones

In a new ad released by online retailer Amazon depicts 'Amazon Prime Air', a future service that the company says will deliver packages up to five pounds in 30 minutes or less using small drones.(Handout photo, Amazon)

The Fort Worth City Council on Nov. 13 received an informal report about how the city uses unmanned aircraft systems, commonly known as drones, and potential applications of this technology to municipal services. The city manager’s office recommended expanding their use.

District 5 Councilwoman Gyna Bivens said she requested the report after an incident of clear-cutting trees in her district, and that friends and neighbors had approached her about using drones as a better way to keep inventory and avoid such incidents in the future.

“I hope to see anybody cutting down a tree,” Bivens said.

These city departments are using drones:

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Police – Owns 10 drones, including small ones for indoor use. They are used for intelligence gathering, surveillance, search and rescue, training and monitoring.

Water – Owns one drone, used for inspections and monitoring of water and sewer line infrastructure.

Information Technology – Owns one drone, used for inspections of radio towers.

Fire – Owns two drones to scout structure fires, wildfires, etc., conduct damage assessments and do reconnaissance during search and rescue.

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Other departments that have expressed interest in using drones are:

Code Compliance – To detect mosquito breeding areas, identify illegal dumping areas and substandard buildings

Park and Recreation – To inspect parks and golf courses.

Property Management – To inspect city property and structures.

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Planning and Development – To assess the city’s tree canopy and associated effects, inspect construction sites and review zoning issues.

Public Events – Photography for marketing.

Transportation and Public Works – Inspect runoff during flood incidents, construction projects.

Aviation – To monitor and inspect facilities, property and wildlife.

Research has shown that most drone deployment applications cost from $800 to $2,000. Depending on the frequency of use, the option to enter into an agreement with a third-party vendor or interdepartmental agreement is also available. Costs for third-party vendors usually start at $150 an hour for basic services, but they often require a four-hour minimum to deploy a drone for each request, bringing the minimum cost of a single drone mission to $600.

The report noted that drones can be economical in comparison with traditional flight operations, which typically start at $180 an hour in a small, fixed-wing aircraft and $2,000 per flight-hour in a helicopter.