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'I have no rights': Valley residents concerned over Walmart delivery drones

Walmart's drone delivery program will ship items 10 pounds and lighter to customers within one square mile of a participating store.

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Shortly after Walmart announced a drone delivery program in Arizona, neighbors in one of the testing zones wanted the program grounded.

Autumn Johnson heard a loud noise outside her home on Friday, Dec. 30. When she went to inspect; she saw something she had not been expecting.

“I came out and saw a large flying object above my yard. That’s when I realized it was a drone,” Johnson said.

Look to the skies

The drone was part of Walmart’s new DroneUp delivery program, a service that ships items 10 pounds and lighter to customers within one square mile of a participating Walmart store. In this case, the store is located near 59th Avenue and Bell Road. 

Johnson wasn’t thrilled to learn she lived in the middle of the new delivery zone and said she isn't convinced drones are safe.

Walmart contends the drone program is completely safe, full of safety redundancies, and operated by FAA-certified pilots.

Federal rules and regulations for drones are in place for safety.

Walmart partnered with drone service, DroneUp. In a statement, DroneUp said:

“Flying safely and legally is the cornerstone of every flight. We work closely with the FAA to make sure we are following every rule and regulation. And with that, we are well regarded in the industry for our safe operations. We do operations briefings with all local FAA entities when we begin to serve a new community.”

Noise, privacy, and safety

Johnson was shocked to learn that drones have the legal right to fly over her property; even record photos or videos of her property if the operator desired. 

According to Johnson, she confronted a representative for DroneUp the day their drone flew over her front yard.

“The gentleman from DroneUp delivery basically told me I had, essentially, no legal rights,” Johnson said. “They could be wherever they wanted, as long as it was above a blade of grass, anywhere on my property. Front yard, back yard, above your roof, in front of your windows; I had no rights.”

Property owners do have rights in Arizona, but areas of "reasonable expectation of privacy" are narrowly defined in Arizona Revised Statutes 13-3019

In a 2017 case, a judge ruled it was not illegal for a person to record video of their neighbor in that neighbor’s backyard. Eddie Farnsworth-R of Gilbert explained in an Arizona Capitol Times article in 2016:

“Farnsworth said there is no expectation of privacy in a rear yard, which is why someone who has a two-story house is free to peer into the rear yard of a next-door neighbor. In fact, he said, the neighbor is even entitled to get on a ladder and peer over the wall ‘for hours on end’ without violating the law.”

It is a notion that Johnson finds unsettling.

“You are supposed to have a reasonable enjoyment of your property in sort of a peaceful and quiet manner- obviously, we know there’s a road and those kinds of things- but most people don’t think there’s going to be a loud vehicle essentially hovering over their house for an unknown amount of time,” Johnson said. 

“I mean, if it’s like [Amazon] Prime, they can be up past your house dozens of times a day. It’s very loud and very disruptive.”

A desired resolution

Johnson is taking her concerns to community leaders. 

She and some neighbors have contacted the mayor’s office and city and state representatives and reached out to Senator Sinema’s office. 

In the short term, Johnson would like to see an end to the drone delivery program used by Walmart and other retailers. But she said her concerns are larger than just deliveries.

Johnson said she'd like to see some legislation enacted before drone delivery becomes pervasive.  

Walmart issued a statement about its delivery program.

“We care deeply about the communities we serve and are always appreciative to hear feedback. Customer safety and privacy is a top priority and we’ll continue to work with community members to ensure our delivery methods are consistent with their needs and desires.”

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