What do the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, and New York Giants all have in common? Aside from being NFL teams and Super Bowl winners, they each have used a drone to film football practices, causing them to either be contacted or investigated by the FAA for violating federal airspace rules. The Washington Nationals received a similar “commendation” from the FAA after using a drone to take publicity photos during Spring Training.
Commercial use of drones is prohibited by the FAA (hobbyist have no such prohibition, but there are designated no fly zones). Any major league sports team or other business seeking to use a drone must apply to the FAA and receive a waiver. The FAA opened the door to granting waivers in September of 2014, and have granted almost 700 of them through the end of June. Waiver requests are being approved at the rate of 50 per week and are expected to increase as companies explore their business uses.
Two of the more notable companies that have obtained approval to use drones commercially include NFL Films and the US Open Golf tournament. The FAA has approved drones to be used by TV and movie production companies, realtors for real estate sales, flood monitoring, monitoring construction projects, and agriculture. The common thread between all approvals thus far have been low altitude, a relatively confined or small flight area, and away from large crowds.
One of the interesting points we can take from the experience of the Cowboys, Patriots, and Giants, is how little most businesses understand about FAA guidelines and the commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles. The main purpose of the FAA is to keep our skies safe for air travelers, as well as, those of us on the ground. The use of drones is expected to eclipse the combined fleet of US commercial jets in 5 years. If anything, regulations will become more defined as the number of waivers increases.
The use of drones will increase greatly as businesses move from seeing UAVs as a novelty to actually utilizing them as a business tool. Part of that maturation process will involve risk analysis to address a host of issues including:
- What are the benefits and legitimate uses for a drone
- Where can they be safely used and under what conditions (people, wind speed, time of day, etc.)
- Who is authorized to fly the UAV
- What kind of certification and training will be required for pilots & operators
- Who will be responsible for flight logs and other reporting
- What will they carry (cameras, payloads, etc.)
In addition to addressing these items, and creating the policies and procedures to govern their usage, companies also need to address how they insure these vehicles. If companies, or NFL teams, are simply going out and buying a drone on Amazon and flying them without knowledge of the FAA approval process, I think it’s safe to say they are assuming their general liability policy will cover them. Chances are, it won’t. They will most likely need to purchase drone insurance to fully protect themselves (see https://wiseinsurancegroup.com/drone-insurance/).
I would encourage any business owner to confirm they have coverage prior to launching a UAV that first time. Jerry Jones may have deep pockets, but I doubt he’d want to write the check if the drone had injured one of the Cowboys multi-million dollar players. What do you think? Share your thoughts and questions with me on my Google +, Facebook, and LinkedIn pages. I’d love to hear from you!