Around the world the idea of using drones to gather data aboutour surroundings is literally taking off. The technology is beingemployed from agriculture to industrial inspections, and now theinsurance industry is looking at the benefits and value ofcollecting information through the use of unmanned aircraft. Droneis a term that has typically not had a beneficial connotation. Itelicits images of robots and war machines, but that is far from thetruth. The insiders in the robotic industry cringe at the worddrone as they prefer to use terms like RPAS (remotely piloted airsystem) or UAV (Unmanned Air Vehicle). Whatever you like to callit, unmanned aircraft are here and making headlines nearly everyday. The reality is that more people are finding this technologyuseful and using it because they find it a safer and more valuableway to do business. As much as the value is easy to understand,safe and compliant drone operations still require significantplanning and interaction, the laws are still to be clearly defined,and the data management can be overbearing.

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Key to getting started is learning how to comply with the legalissues required to operate drones. The FAA has completejurisdiction 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 musthave what is called a Section 333 exemption. This exemptionprovides a waiver to the Federal Regulations that prohibitcommercial activity with unmanned aircraft. There are additionalrestrictions that one has to have as the exemption is the firststep. Then the actual operation is authorized under what is calleda Certificate of Authorization or COA. With a 333 exemption,companies are given a nationwide COA for flight operations below200 feet, which is well below what is needed to do a typicalinsurance claim.

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The challenge, however, is that depending on your location,there may be additional restrictions and additional COAs required.Airspace is divided into several categories and depending on thecategory, your operation may be affected. The goal from the FAA'sperspective is to keep congested airspace safe and prevent someonefrom flying in front of landing aircraft or interfering withhelicopter operations around a hospital, etc. Then there are alsoreporting, currency and compliance requirements. All of this getspretty convoluted quickly. Cunningham Lindsey's subsidiary, ValeTraining Solutions, through its partnership with VDOS Global LLC,is helping to simplify this process by teaching drone safety andbest practices to ensure you have a simple method to meet the FAAmandates.

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Vale understands the need to develop an educational plan so thatproperly trained staff can understand the new FAA requirements forflying drones. We are preparing for this by offering classesbeginning in January 2017 to instruct individuals on how to safelyfly and use drones and their related equipment for the purpose ofbuilding and roof inspections.

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In particular, roof inspections can prove dangerous and costlyfor the claim professionals and others who today must climb onroofs to confirm and assess the damage. The cost of drones are nowlow enough and the size of the equipment small enough for adjustersand other roof inspectors to begin making them a standard part ofthe inspection process. Using drones reduces the significant risksof serious personal injury and can improve the documentationprocess via the video and imagery collected. Other benefits ofcompleting roof inspections with drones include:

  • Avoid the risk of ladder displacement that often results inpersonal injuries and potential collateral damage

  • Increase efficiency in the roof inspection process for fasterclaim cycle time.

  • Improve the thoroughness of the inspection, as the drone can goplaces the inspector cannot.

  • Eliminate potential damage the roof inspector may cause to theroof (clay tile, metal roof, PVC roofs when temperature is below 60degrees).

There are certainly situations that will still warrantinspections by forensic experts, including building professionalsfrom Sergon and professional engineers from EFI Global, bothdivisions of Cunningham Lindsey. However, a number of inspectionscan and will be completed by drones because of the efficiencies andadvantages they offer.

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The industry is changing and technology is pushing everyone todevelop new procedures and enable new methodologies. Drones are abig part of our future and represent a safer and more efficientprocess to getting data in conditions that are often difficult ordangerous. To be adequately prepared for this evolution, trainingis key through the offerings at Vale Training Solutions beginningin January 2017.

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Brian Whiteside is the president of VDOS Global LLC and canbe reached at [email protected]. Matthew McCutcheon,CPCU, AIC, is the vice president of Vale Training Solutions. E-mailhim at [email protected].

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