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Around the world the idea of using drones to gather data about our surroundings is literally taking off. The technology is being employed from agriculture to industrial inspections, and now the insurance industry is looking at the benefits and value of collecting information through the use of unmanned aircraft. Drone is a term that has typically not had a beneficial connotation. It elicits images of robots and war machines, but that is far from the truth. The insiders in the robotic industry cringe at the word drone as they prefer to use terms like RPAS (remotely piloted air system) or UAV (Unmanned Air Vehicle). Whatever you like to call it, unmanned aircraft are here and making headlines nearly every day. The reality is that more people are finding this technology useful and using it because they find it a safer and more valuable way to do business. As much as the value is easy to understand, safe and compliant drone operations still require significant planning and interaction, the laws are still to be clearly defined, and the data management can be overbearing.

Key to getting started is learning how to comply with the legal issues required to operate drones. The FAA has complete jurisdiction over anything that flies in the US. All aircraft, whether manned or unmanned, have to first be authorized by the FAA. To fly commercially under current law, the operator or company must have what is called a Section 333 exemption. This exemption provides a waiver to the Federal Regulations that prohibit commercial activity with unmanned aircraft. There are additional restrictions that one has to have as the exemption is the first step. Then the actual operation is authorized under what is called a Certificate of Authorization or COA. With a 333 exemption, companies are given a nationwide COA for flight operations below 200 feet, which is well below what is needed to do a typical insurance claim.

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