The Year Ahead in Drones

Feb. 8, 2017

Drone use, in construction and elsewhere, achieved big-time prominence in 2016. Truly big air.

The FAA finally rolled out Part 107, which provided a path to legally operating a drone for commercial reasons, including details on securing a Section 333 exemption.

What’s ahead for drones in 2017? A lot more than serving as flying extras for Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl halftime show.

The people who put together Commercial UAV News and the Commercial UAV Expo (June 20-22, Brussels, Belgium; Oct. 24-26, Las Vegas) have released an interesting report titled “7 Commercial Drone Predictions for 2017.”

Here are a few of the construction-related highlights.

The first assertion is that new questions around legality and authority are going to come up; in other words, Part 107 didn’t solve everything. Report author Jeremiah Karpowicz writes, “Part 107 does not cover certain operations like flying beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) or nighttime flying. Operators can go through a waiver process to receive approval around those kinds of operations, but that process in some ways represents a step backward.”

Backward as in red tape. “The fact is that everyone and their brother wants to fly at night and BVLOS,” says Steve Hogan, drone lawyer at Ausley & McMullen and host of the “Drone Law Today” podcast. “Right now, each operator who wants to do something like that has to file a separate Part 107 waiver with the FAA.”

The report also delves into the specter of state regulation. The FAA’s bailiwick is only to determine how drones can fly safely. What’s allowed to be done during an otherwise safe flight is another matter—and square in the jurisdiction of individual state and local authorities. Managers need to shift focus from the FAA to legislation that might be occurring in their backyard or across the state lines their projects span.

Second, the report predicts that we will see a transition from “exploring” to “implementing.” This is certainly not a revelation for newer technologies that come into the construction arena, as machine control and telematics have shown.

“What we’ve seen going into 2017 is that large companies have bought into and have validated with field tests the fact that drones actually do bring value to them,” says Michael Singer, CEO at DroneView Technologies. “The adoption cycle is now focused on implementing to workflow as opposed to R&D or exploring and getting comfortable with the validity of the data…in the end it’s really about what problems are being addressed and what problems are being solved.”

As more firms operate drones and awareness of risk factors increases, the report continues, insurance will become a priority.

“What proper insurance looks like can sometimes be an open question, though, and it’s complicated by distinctions between general liability carriers and specialist aviation insurance providers,” Karpowicz writes. “Right now, many operators simply need to prove they have some sort of insurance to stakeholders, even though exactly what that means to either party is at best ill defined.”

Karpowicz goes on to predict that policies will become more sophisticated in dealing with evolving issues such as privacy, damage, and liability.

In construction, then, it’s not a leap to imagine more project owners establishing increasingly specific requirements for insurance.

“A top priority in 2017 will revolve around sorting through the offerings of organizations like Global Aerospace that provide specialist aviation insurance with ones that offer drone-on-demand insurance, and even companies that provide a general liability policy that might not cover everything an operator thinks it does,” says the report.

Finally, asset managers will see the drone industry cream begin to rise to the top, as the report asserts there will be a slew of industry shakeouts.

Karpowicz: “The recent acquisitions, mergers, pivots, sales, and partnerships that we’ve seen in the commercial drone industry are just a hint at what’s in store for hardware and software providers. These sorts of deals will increase in 2017 and further define what commercial drone solutions are available, and what features they possess. Such developments are partly related to consolidation for market share, but as ever, it’s mostly an issue of economics.”

Survival of the fittest, and those with the most complete and well-backed drone solutions, can only benefit asset managers going forward. Keep an eye on the sky and the market.

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.