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Why use Drones?

Byline: BRIAN WHITESIDE, MATTHEW McCUTCHEON, CPCU, AIC

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.

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 the category, your operation may be affected. The goal from the FAA's perspective is to keep congested airspace safe and prevent someone from flying in front of landing aircraft or interfering with helicopter operations around a hospital, etc. Then there are also reporting, currency and compliance requirements. All of this gets pretty convoluted quickly. Cunningham Lindsey's subsidiary, Vale Training Solutions, through its partnership with VDOS Global LLC, is helping to simplify this process by teaching drone safety and best practices to ensure you have a simple method to meet the FAA mandates.

Vale understands the need to develop an educational plan so that properly trained staff can understand the new FAA requirements for flying drones. We are preparing for this by offering classes beginning in January 2017 to instruct individuals on how to safely fly and use drones and their related equipment for the purpose of building and roof inspections.

In particular, roof inspections can prove dangerous and costly for the claim professionals and others who today must climb on roofs to confirm and assess the damage. The cost of drones are now low enough and the size of the equipment small enough for adjusters and other roof inspectors to begin making them a standard part of the inspection process. Using drones reduces the significant risks of serious personal injury and can improve the documentation process via the video and imagery collected. Other benefits of completing roof inspections with drones include:

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Avoid the risk of ladder displacement that often results in personal injuries and potential collateral damage

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Increase efficiency in the roof inspection process for faster claim cycle time.

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Improve the thoroughness of the inspection, as the drone can go places the inspector cannot.

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

There are certainly situations that will still warrant inspections by forensic experts, including building professionals from Sergon and professional engineers from EFI Global, both divisions of Cunningham Lindsey. However, a number of inspections can and will be completed by drones because of the efficiencies and advantages they offer.

The industry is changing and technology is pushing everyone to develop new procedures and enable new methodologies. Drones are a big part of our future and represent a safer and more efficient process to getting data in conditions that are often difficult or dangerous. To be adequately prepared for this evolution, training is key through the offerings at Vale Training Solutions beginning in January 2017.

Brian Whiteside is the president of VDOS Global LLC and can be reached at Brian.whiteside@vdosglobal.us. Matthew McCutcheon, CPCU, AIC, is the vice president of Vale Training Solutions. E-mail him at mmccutcheon@vale-ts.com.
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Title Annotation:Vendor Showcase
Publication:Claims
Date:Apr 1, 2016
Words:811
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