These days, one probably wouldn’t be surprised to see an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), commonly referred to as a “drone,” hovering over a job site. These vehicles hold great promise for the construction industry.

But before you run down to the local hobby store to pick one up, be sure to familiarize yourself with the regulatory issues surrounding their use. As drone use increases, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is looking at them more closely, and the regulatory framework that governs their operation is in a state of flux.

A powerful tool

A drone with high-quality video and still photography capabilities could serve as a powerful tool for contractors. Potential uses include:

Site surveys. Drones can fly over a job site and transmit images to a mapping software program. This can be a cost-effective solution for aerial mapping needs that traditionally required a larger aircraft, such as a helicopter.

Job monitoring. Using a drone can be a great way to monitor progress, keep projects on schedule, ensure work is meeting your quality standards and update clients with informative — even spectacular — imagery.

Inspections. A drone allows you to inspect work at high elevations or difficult-to-reach places without the cost and safety concerns associated with human inspections.

Marketing. High quality aerial video footage of a job site can be an impactful tool for showing your work to clients and prospects.

Materials and equipment transport. Eventually, it may be possible to use drones to move certain materials and equipment to or on a job site.

Security. Drones can help detect and prevent theft or trespassing on job sites or at storage facilities.

A cautious agency

Drones are indeed a promising tool for contractors, but be mindful of potential regulatory issues. Currently, the FAA permits recreational use of drones weighing up to 55 pounds, so long as users register their aircraft and comply with federal safety guidelines. These include flying no higher than 400 feet, staying away from airports and avoiding interference with air traffic.

The bottom line

As of this writing, the FAA is developing regulations for commercial drone use. For now, permission is granted on a case-by-case basis to users who obtain a “Section 333 exemption.” To avoid significant penalties (as much as seven figures in extreme cases), contractors who wish to use drones should apply for a Sec. 333 exemption (a potentially costly, time-consuming process) or hire a drone operator who already has a valid exemption.

© 2016

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