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Drone-powered solutions are reliable eyes in sky used to survey, map, inspect and monitor projects and people on a jobsite, and even provide imagery to help market the work. Drones essentially allow for a fully digital and automated way to capture, analyze and share data, and new technology is making complex workflows simpler to process. They are so commonplace that the construction industry has recently become one of the largest commercial sectors supporting drone enhancement and development. 

Drones and other aerial technology give construction managers a faster, more efficient and cost-effective way to monitor and take action whether it’s to address workplace safety concerns for their crews, communicate in real-time with analytics or help identify as-built versus as-planned or designed projects. Perhaps most importantly, automated technology can help keep key stakeholders informed about whether the project is on-time and on-track.

It’s commonly known that regulation of any of kind may slow the adoption of sophisticated technology, but monitoring updates and changes from the Federal Aviation Administration is critical. The FAA approved its first set of regulations governing the use of small, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, in construction or other commercial operations effective in 2016. Since then, the agency has been working to evaluate and propose rules that would dictate drone usage and operations over people and at night. 

The aptly named Operation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Over People (Part 107) ruling which went into effect in April 2021 states, “Drone pilots operating under Part 107 may fly at night, over people and moving vehicles without a waiver as long as they meet the requirements defined in the rule. Airspace authorizations are still required for night operations in controlled airspace under 400 feet,” according the FAA website.

For the construction industry, this means that the FAA can issue waivers to certain requirements of Part 107 if an operator demonstrates they can fly safely under the waiver without endangering other aircraft, people or property on the ground or in the air. However, additional airman certification may be required for a Pilot in Command (or PIC), including obtaining a Remote Pilot Certificate with a UAS rating, online training for licensed pilots who have completed a flight review in the past 24 months, background security checks, Remote Pilot Certificate and Rating Application and recurrent training every 24 months. PIC’s must also make their drones available for inspection and testing by the FAA, supply records as requested and report to the FAA on any incidents of serious injury, loss of consciousness or property damage of at least $500 within 10 days.

With improved technology like artificial intelligence, 3D imaging and others may come increased or emerging risk. As the FAA continues to test and propose new regulations and drone technology advances at a rapid pace, construction executives must make sure they are conducting their own evaluation of emerging risks on jobsites to protect their people, property and profits. 

One new technology the industry is keeping a close eye on is cloud-based connected drones and anti-collision technology. As demand for multiple drones increases, more sophisticated training and low-cost technological solutions will be paramount for the industry. 

Compliance with FAA regulations aside, key risks include workplace safety and even potential increases cyber threats. Anyone may be able to get their hands on a drone in 2021, but the operation and safety of piloting one demands technical skills that should be learned through required certifications to ensure safety standards are met on the ground and in the air.

Further, the large amount of information generated from drone solutions means data transfer systems should be secured and evaluated for additional risk. With increased reliance on technology like drones, contractors are more at risk for cyberattacks. Imagine a ransomware attack where all data is frozen for several days. While some fieldwork may continue, none of the back-office work relating to submittals, changes or requests for information might take place.

It is imperative that construction managers are working with an insurance brokerage and legal and risk management teams specializing in a particular industry or geography. Whether a construction management team is just starting out with drone-powered solutions, securing budget for upgrades or ready to jump on the next wave of technology, a strong team that understands current and emerging risks can make a big difference to the bottom line. 

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