By Ed Williams, Senior Vice-President and Program Manager
Drones are becoming increasingly more common for use
in fire, EMS and other emergency services. Public safety is
predicted to be one of the most promising fields for drone
usage. From search-and-rescue operations to managing
wildfire scenes, drones are being seen at some of the most
dangerous and labor intensive fire and EMS operations.
Technically referred to as unmanned aerial systems (UASs) or
unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), they come in different types
and sizes, different price points and different capabilities. The
system refers to the platform (or aircraft), the payload (such as
camera or sensor) and the ground control station. UAS is the
term the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has adopted.
The most common types seen in the fire service are the very
small fixed-wing airplane, helicopter or rotorcraft models. The
UAS’s ability to reach inaccessible or dangerous areas that put
human life at risk is a key advantage for fire and EMS. The
situational awareness that these “eyes in the sky” provide to
incident commanders may help keep firefighters and other
responders from unnecessary danger.
A UAS’s ability to deliver real time, high definition, infrared
video can help firefighters monitor wildfires so they can
position ground forces in place where they can be most
useful. UASs can be equipped with thermal optical cameras
and multi-sensor navigation systems. As drones’ navigational
capabilities develop, their use in search-and-rescue missions
will continue to expand.
Much has been written about the potential for UASs. The
Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International
(AUVSI) predicts an $83 billion economic impact over the next
10 years, creating 70,000 jobs. Furthermore, they anticipate
175,000 UASs in commercial use by 2035. With this type of
growth, it is no wonder that the Federal Aviation
Administration (FAA) has an interest in regulating the
industry. According to FAA, no UASs can be flown for
business or commercial purposes without specific
entities can obtain such
authorization via either a
Airworthiness or by
Special Exemption under
Section 3333 of the 2012
FAA Modernization and
The good news is that insurance is available through VFIS for
emergency service organizations (ESOs) that hold FAA
approval and for those that don’t, provided the fire or EMS
service can show that they plan to operate the UAS with
professionalism. It will be important for VFIS to know the
capabilities of the model that is planned to be operated, the
experience and training of the operator, what the UAS will be
used for and the environment in which it will be operated
(i.e., proximity to persons and property).
Consider establishing sound best practices before engaging in
drone operations with the following questions.
Use of UAS /drone:
- What is the intended use and frequency of use of the drone? Is the indicated use consistent with the specific equipment?
- In what airspace will the drone be operating and under what legal authority? Is the flying height greater than 400 feet?
Is the distance capability in or out of line of sight?
- Were the applicable state laws reviewed where the drone will be flown?
- Will drone service to others be provided?
- Did the operator receive proper flight training for the drone?
- Does the operator have a certificate of compliance to fly the drone that is approved by the FAA?
- How many hours has the operator logged flying the drone? What proportion of logged flight hours has been accident
free? Outline any prior accidents and losses.
- What is the make, model and manufacturer of the equipment?
- Is the manufacturer financially sound and do they provide an equipment warranty?
- Does the insured formally restrict the drone’s flight operations to only pre-approved and flight-certified company
- How many drones will be operated?
- Are regular maintenance routines performed and recorded for the drone?
Note that there is no automatic coverage for drones within the VFIS standard insurance policy.
Coverage for UASs is optional and would commonly include:
- Physical damage to the UAS, any payload items and ground equipment (subject to a deductible)
- Liability to third parties; limits can be purchased above $1 million occ.
- Premises liability
- Medical expense
- Coverage for damage arising out of malicious damage
All of the above is offered by VFIS through Global Aerospace Aviation Insurance. The requirement is that a
short supplemental application be completed and VFIS will work with Global Aerospace to take care of the
future of UASs is not
without its challenges.
issues persist and
and best practices all
consideration as an
VFIS will continue to
assess the changing
UAS environment in
order to provide
products to best serve
Learn about the VFIS insurance products.