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Construction Drones and the Law: Know Before Your Fly

The construction industry is being revolutionized by drone technology.

According to an industry report, construction is the fasting growing sector for drone use – surging 239 percent two years ago. And, construction companies have good reason to adopt UAS. “Leveraging drones can increase safety on a construction site by 55 percent,” the report adds.

Deploying drones for aerial mapping and 3D imagery not only saves money compared to manned flights, but also removes the risk of human injury inherent in flight.

From site planning to client communication to progress tracking, drone tech is here to stay across the construction industry. However, like the adaptation of any emerging technology, companies considering a sizeable drone investment must first understand the legal implications involved.

The FAA

The Federal Aviation Administration regulates all flights within American airspace – manned or unmanned.

In 2016, the FAA enacted rules covering the commercial use of drones – Part 107. It covers commercial drones weighing no more than 55 pounds. If you are flying a drone weighing more than 55 pounds (unlikely for most construction missions), you must apply for an exemption under the Special Authority for Certain Unmanned Systems.

Pilots flying under Part 107 must register the drone and label it with the registration number.

A commercial drone pilot must obtain a remote pilot certificate from the FAA – a process that includes passing a written test. Once obtained, the certificate must be “easily accessible by the remote pilot during all UAS operations.” Pilots must renew the certificate every two years by passing an updated test.

There are many moving parts to Part 107 regulation, but here’s a brief overview:

  • Once on site, only the “remote pilot in command” may operate the drone – not the boss, foreman, client or any unlicensed user; not even for a minute.
  • The drone pilot must always keep the aircraft within visual line of sight. That means you always have to be able to see the drone without the aid of any optic device beyond corrective lenses.
  • You may not operate the drone over anyone who is not directly part of the flight mission. That means, you must clear the site of all the construction crew during the flight. However, you may fly the drone over a covered structure or stationary vehicle even if people are inside.
  • Pilots may only fly missions during daylight or what’s known as “civil twilight,” defined by the FAA as “30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset, local time [and the drone must be equipped with anti-collision lights].”
  • The drone may not fly 400 feet above ground level or “higher if your drone remains within 400 feet of a structure.” The maximum ground speed is 100 mph. To review more details about what 400 feet really means, check out this handy guide.

Keep in mind, the FAA can provide waivers for many rules of Part 107 if the applicant can provide a unique reason for the use. However, most construction flights should not require a waiver.

State Laws

In addition to federal laws, several states have passed drone-related laws.

Attorney Jonathan Rupprecht points out:

“For example, the State of Minnesota requires registration of aircraft under their “aircraft” statutes and they are not applying that to drones. Be on the lookout for state departments of aviation changing their positions and applying ‘aircraft’ laws to drones.”

International Laws

Obviously, the FAA only has jurisdiction within the borders of the United States.  You should always research local laws and regulations before planning to roll out a project in a foreign country.  This international drone law cheat sheet provides some of the basics in several popular countries and locations.

Action Steps

The American Bar Association recommends construction companies consider the following factors when considering drones:

  • “Review applicable law and regulations.
  • Create/update site visit release forms, employee materials and job site signage to facilitate notice and consent regarding drone flights and imagery.
  • Develop procedures for drone accident reporting and response.
  • Incorporate provisions for obtaining and preserving drone imagery, data and other records into litigation hold memos, document collection checklists, and discovery requests.
  • Develop contract provisions or a drone rider allocating costs of using drone technology and responsibility for complying with applicable laws.”

Insurance

As with many emerging markets, insurance companies have elevated to new heights of coverage when it comes to drone tech.

SkyWatch.AI Drone Insurance, a risk-assessment and InsurTech platform for the drone industry, has established a partnership with AUVSI, the world’s largest non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of unmanned systems. Drone pilots who complete the org’s Trusted Operator Program (TOP) level 2 and 3, may be eligible for lower insurance rates based upon flight experience and professional education.

The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) also has an agreement with Harry A. Koch Insurers to market UAV insurance to the commercial drone community and pilots as a membership benefit.

Acend has also teamed up with Liberty Specialty Markets to deploy DroneInsurance.com, a platform that “makes buying drone insurance easy to understand and convenient to purchase online.”

Check out our recently released drone insurance overview to learn more.

 

Using Other Companies

After considering all the various factors, many construction companies decide the best course of action is to hire an outside drone-services contractor.

Leading drone services such as Drone Deploy can empower pilots plan and automate drone missions by allowing management of cloud-drive data.

 

Learn More 

If you want to learn more about the benefits of aerial drone photography for the construction industry, or you’re interested in obtaining footage of your project please contact us at Dronegenuity. We offer professional drone services, performed by an FAA licensed drone operator for a variety of customers of all sizes. All of the work that we do is completely customized and we make the process simple and convenient.

 

 

About the Author

Jason Reagan

Twitter

Jason Reagan is a tech journalist and content-marketing creator. Since 2014, Jason has covered the commercial drone industry. Beginning his career as a journalist in 1996, Jason has since written and edited thousands of engaging news articles, blog posts, press releases and online content. TWITTER:@JasonPReagan | EMAIL: jasonpreagan@outlook.com