State Farm Granted Key Drone Permissions for Florence Damage Assessment

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Thomas Jones, a program manager with MAAP, launches a drone during tests with State Farm. (Source: Virginia Tech)

U.S. insurer State Farm has been granted a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) waiver for unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operations to assess damage in communities impacted by Hurricane Florence.

According to an announcement from Virginia Tech, the waiver allows both flights over people and flights beyond the operator’s visual line of sight. These provisions are approved over four states impacted by the hurricane.

The insurance company has been collaborating with the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP) as part of the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP). According to Virginia Tech, the successful waiver application is a testament to the program’s success in facilitating rapid, research-based advances in drone operations to serve communities’ needs. Through research collaboration with MAAP, State Farm determined that flying the eBee fixed-wing drone would reduce the risk of damage to people and property. Manufactured by senseFly, the drone captures high-resolution imagery.

“State Farm needs to quickly assess damage after significant weather events,” says Robert Yi, senior vice president of State Farm. “Drone technology provides us with the capability to quickly deploy over a catastrophe site and assess damage from the air. The data we obtain from drone flights can be used to help us determine the severity of damage. This also allows us to place our claims team on the ground and evaluate uninhabitable insured property.”

“This is a pivotal moment that demonstrates the value of a risk-based safety case development process,” adds Mark Blanks, director of MAAP. “Drone technology has tremendous potential to serve the public, but before we can harness that capability, we need to demonstrate conclusively that ambitious operations can be done safely. This waiver – and the volume of research that backs it up – shows that this approach works.”

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