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State Farm Gets First National Waiver for Damage Assessment UAV Flights

BY Zacc Dukowitz
11 January 2019

The FAA has issued the first national waiver ever to State Farm for drone operations over people and BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) to conduct UAV missions for damage assessment. The waiver can be used anywhere in the U.S., and is good until November of 2022.

state-farm-waiver

Photo credit: State Farm

Previous waivers for drone-conducted damage assessments that involve flying BVLOS or over people have been limited by a short time frame and restricted to geographic areas impacted by hurricanes. This new waiver is the first time the FAA has given a company permission to conduct both of these types of operations for damage assessment throughout the U.S. for an extended period of time, and it represents a significant step forward on the regulatory front.

Previously, State Farm had permission to test BVLOS and flights over people during damage assessment missions. The new waiver allows them to move from testing these types of operations into making them regular parts of their insurance adjustment work.

Insurance Claims by Drone

According to a report issued by Skyward back in July of 2018, when drone adoption was looked at across all industries that use drones in their operations, the insurance industry accounted for 12% of overall adoption.

We have trained our claims specialists to be drone pilots, so this is another tool for them to use after any kind of a catastrophe.

– Chris Pilcic, State Farm

In a catastrophe situation, access to the impacted area may be challenged by water, debris, and damage to infrastructure, which can make it difficult and also dangerous to assess the damage. These difficulties can lead to delays in insurance adjustments, which in turn lead to delays in insurance being paid out.

Many insurance companies are turning to drones as a new way to bypass the trouble of conducting manual insurance adjustments.

One of the most common claims made after a hurricane or big storm is roof damage. Using a drone, an insurance inspection can be done in 20-30 minutes. With a drone, the process is streamlined, since the inspection involves the same shot list for every property. In an area just hit by a big storm, a drone pilot can go from one property to the next doing inspections quickly and efficiently.

Compare that to a traditional inspector who would take over an hour for the inspection, often at a cost of 2-3 times more than what a drone pilot charges (as a baseline figure for comparison, DroneBase guarantees $70 per insurance inspection).

How State Farm Got Their Waiver

State Farm’s new waiver did not come about overnight.

waiver-state-farm-drones

Photo credit: State Farm

For almost two years State Farm has been working in partnership with the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP) at Virginia Tech to conduct drone safety case research.

In May of 2018, the Commonwealth of Virginia was chosen as one of the ten winners of the UAS Integration Pilot Programs (UAS IPP), a federal program created to test various types of UAS operations generally prohibited by the FAA’s Part 107 rules, such as BVLOS and flights over people.

Through Virginia’s pilot program, State Farm has been able to test a wide range of potential risks for conducting long range damage assessment operations via drone, in which the pilot both potentially flies over people and does not maintain a direct line of sight while flying.

I’m proud of the teamwork demonstrated in making a nationwide waiver a reality at State Farm. The partnership between Claims, Labs and Virginia Tech has been integral in getting us to this point.

– Mark Oakley, Senior Vice President for Labs at State Farm.

In the course of their research, State Farm and MAAP performed numerous tests evaluating senseFly’s fixed-wing eBee Classic drone for long-distance damage assessment flights.
Using the data collected from their research to help make their case, State Farm was able to secure temporary waivers from the FAA for BVLOS and flights over people for damage assessment flights in areas impacted by Hurricanes Florence and Michael.

These missions helped provide real-world experience and data for State Farm’s application to get a national, long-term waiver to continue conducting similar operations for damage assessment.

Looking Forward

We’ve been seeing a lot of first-of-its-kind waivers lately.

Toward the end of December we reported on Airobotics’ new, unique waiver to fly automated BVLOS missions over people without the use of a Visual Observer.

In November, we covered a first-of-its-kind waiver issued to Rutherford County, TN that allowed a county government to fly UAVs over people, and in October the FAA granted GE’s Avitas Systems a waiver to fly a 55+ pound drone BVLOS, which had also never happened before.

So what’s it all mean? Both that the FAA is starting to feel more comfortable issuing waivers for BVLOS and flights over people, and that companies are starting to better understand how to navigate the waiver process to obtain a successful outcome.

As 2019 rolls on, we expect to see a lot more first-of-its-kind waivers and an increase in approved waivers for BVLOS and flights over people.

Are you excited to see the FAA issuing so many first-of-its-kind waivers? Chime in on this thread in the UAV Coach community forum to share your thoughts.

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