Exemptions to the Rule

May 12, 2016

You can now challenge the stereotype that paints the construction industry as old school by using some very modern evidence: The construction and infrastructure sectors are at the forefront of UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System) adoption.

A report from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) says so, and they would know because they’ve done the math.

Two years ago, the FAA announced it would consider granting exemptions for certain low-risk commercial UAS operations under Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform act of 2012. Since then, the agency has approved over 4,600 petitions.

A thorough analysis from the AUVSI found that, out of the first 3,163 exemptions, 1,883 of them were for construction and infrastructure use.

Among other key findings:

  • Small firms lead the way. Nearly all of the 1,781 companies using UAS for construction and infrastructure applications are small companies with fewer than 10 employees and revenue under $1 million.
  • Drone fever started hitting in March 2015, when exemptions for construction rose dramatically, peaking at 263 in October 2015.
  • Fair-weather flying states Florida, California, and Texas had the most exemptions, with 192, 191, and 166 respectively.
  • Aerial photography is the most common use listed.
  • Rotary-wing platforms are used about 6 times more than fixed-wing platforms.
  • DJI Global is the most often-cited manufacturer.

The AUVSI (spoiler alert: association self interest) wants to see even more drones in the sky, and they take exception with the FAA’s Section 333 regulation-by-exemption process—calling it “no substitute for finalized rules.”

“While some businesses are flying, this current system of case-by-case approvals isn’t a long-term solution," says Brian Wynne, president and CEO of AUVSI. “For the full potential of the UAS commercial market to be realized in the U.S., the FAA needs to finalize its small UAS rule, without further delays. Once this happens, we will have an established framework for UAS that will reduce the barriers to commercial operations. The positive effects of the regulation will be felt by companies across the nation.”

An economic impact study released by AUVSI found the UAS industry will create more than 100,000 new jobs and more than $82 billion in economic impact within the first 10 years following UAS integration.

The association didn’t break down the job and economic impact specific to construction and infrastructure, but our industry will surely feel part of the boost.

At a minimum, mapping and planning projects will continue to become more efficient, saving time and money. Then there’s the marrying of UAS technology and telematics. Possibilities abound for asset management.

“From inspecting our nation’s infrastructure to providing farmers with aerial views of their crops, the applications of UAS are virtually limitless,” Wynne says. “It’s no wonder businesses—small and large—are clamoring to use this technology.”

But we’re first!

About the Author

Frank Raczon

Raczon’s writing career spans nearly 25 years, including magazine publishing and public relations work with some of the industry’s major equipment manufacturers. He has won numerous awards in his career, including nods from the Construction Writers Association, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, and BtoB magazine. He is responsible for the magazine's Buying Files.