Drones in Construction: Risks and Rewards
Whether for recreational or commercial use, drones are a hot topic in aviation – and in insurance. To date, 700,000 drones are in operation with another 1 million by year-end. While extremely useful in your construction sites, these devices can bring many risks and the possibility of claims if not owned and operated legally.
An Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), or more commonly known as a drone, is an aircraft without a human pilot aboard. There are two types of UAVs: a fixed wing, which can stay in the air for anywhere from 1-35 hours; and a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL), which can stay aloft for 20-30 minutes. VTOL is most commonly used at construction sites, where it can complete a “short and sweet” mission and get closer to the target.
Some common benefits of using a drone at a site are:
- Digital photography and documentation
- Document existing and as-built conditions
- Inspect hard to reach structures, like bridges and high vertical structures
- Environmental and IH sampling in high risk areas
- Safety and workflow surveys
- Traffic control plan inspections
Along with the versatility of a drone comes savings. Typical aerial photography can cost nearly one thousand dollars a month, whereas a UAV can photo-document or survey a 160 acre site in 40 minutes on a single battery charge. Additionally, they’re small enough to go places larger devices can’t.
If drones seem useful at your construction site, ensure you follow the proper procedures for commercial use. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) currently bans the commercial use of UAVs without Section 333 FMRA approval. To fly a drone that is less than 55 pounds legally, it’s best to:
- Get a lawyer
- Secure a Special Airworthiness Certificate (SAC) in the Experimental Category, or
- Secure a SAC in the Restricted Category to test your UAV, or
- Get an exemption under Section 333 of the FAA modernization and Reform Act of 2012 and a Certificate of Authorization to operate your drone in certain areas with certain restrictions
It’s important to remember the risks involved with flying a UAV. Bird strikes, crashes, high winds, lost wireless connection and hacking are all possibilities that can affect your drone. To insure your device, apply for the FAA Section 333 Waiver, or cover it under a CGL policy endorsement or aviation policy, and make sure only trained pilots are flying the drone. Consult with your broker and carrier to make sure you have the best option of coverage for your construction site’s unique needs.
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