American insurance giant State Farm garnered a prized possession in its quest to use commercial drones — a Section 333 exemption from the FAA.
Section 333 allows companies in specified industries to deploy drones for commercial purposes. State Farm became the first insurance company to receive the exemption. As reported in DRONELIFE, State Farm filed for the exemption in October, seeking to both test the drones and eventually fly them over natural disasters and other areas of concern.
In its FAA petition, the insurer says it will deploy the Aerialtronics Altura Zenith ATX8 and the Altavian Nova F6500 “to conduct commercial operations for outdoor research and development related to use of UAS for civil operations for insurance functions including using imagery and analytics in underwriting, [natural disaster] response, roof inspection and claim resolutions.” The Altura is a quadcopter while the Nova is a fixed-wing UAV.
“The potential use of UAS provides us one more innovative tool to help State Farm customers recover from the unexpected as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Wensley Herbert, Operations Vice President of Claims told the Atlanta Business Chronicle. The next step for State Farm will be testing and development at a site near its Bloomington, Ind. headquarters. Test flights would be no higher than 400 feet and would be over at least 100 acres of uninhabited rural farmland.
The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) submitted a comment opposing the petition and expressing concern that “there must be means both to ensure that the sUAS remains within defined airspace and to ensure that the hazard of other aircraft intruding on the operation is mitigated.” The FAA pointed out that State Farm will operate below 400 feet and will utilize geo- fencing at test sites to ensure the UAS remains within defined boundaries.” ALPA also claimed the drones’ batteries had fire and explosion hazards but the FAA didn’t buy the group’s argument.
“Given the size of the battery and the operating conditions of the UAS, the FAA concludes that the use of a lithium polymer battery will not pose an undue safety risk for the proposed operations.”
The Small UAV Coalition supported the petition noting that State Farms’ drones pose considerably less safety risk than larger UAS.
“The Coalition asserted that because UAS operations like the petitioner’s pose minimal risk to safety, they should be subject to minimal and appropriate regulation,” the petition noted.
Since September, the FAA has granted 48 Section 333 exemptions and closed 21 requests. Applicants must obtain a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) that ensures the airspace for their proposed operations is safe, and that they have taken proper steps to see and avoid other aircraft.
Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.
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