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Drones: What architects and engineers need to know about using them professionally


For architects and engineers, drones are much more than toys. They are increasingly becoming a valuable tool of the trade. But this increase in the professional use of drones - sometimes referred to as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAVs - also comes with potential risks.

 Two of the major issues surrounding professional drone usage are compliance with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, and the need for professional liability insurance that covers drone usage.

How do architects and engineers make use of drones professionally?

From taking aerial videos to creating 3D maps or performing building inspections, drones can make architects’ and engineers’ jobs much easier in a number of ways. They can be equipped with technology that allows them to collect important information about weather, radiation and more. Design professionals often need this information to do their jobs, and it is much more difficult and costly to collect without the use of drones.

Aside from helping architecture and engineering firms save money, drones are also a great way to mitigate risks. For example, engineers can use drones to inspect extremely tall or hard-to-reach structures from a safe location.

Some other examples of professional uses for drones in the architecture and engineering industry include the following:

  • land surveying
  • creating visual models for clients
  • performing inspections
  • keeping tabs on project progress
  • and much more!

Complying with FAA drone regulations

As you can probably guess, there are a number of regulations to consider when utilizing drones for professional and commercial purposes. This is mainly due to the fact that drones are made to occupy airspace. This, by nature, creates safety and privacy concerns.

In order to successfully manage these concerns, the FAA has established a number of regulations for the professional use of drones.

Currently, there are no FAA regulations that pertain to the indoor use of drones for commercial or professional purposes. That does not mean, however, that architects and engineers do not still need professional liability insurance that covers their drone usage when flying inside.

When it comes to operating drones outdoors for professional purposes, the rules are a bit more strict. Full details regarding utilizing a drone for commercial purposes can be found on the Federal Aviation Administration’s website, but the following is a quick summary of some of the most important requirements:

  • Be sure to register the drone you’ll be utilizing
  • Obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA
  • Drones must weigh less than 55 lbs.
  • The drone must be within your line of sight while flying
  • Drones may not be flown in controlled airspace near airports
  • Drones must be flown during daylight
  • Drones must not be flown higher than 400 feet above ground level

It’s important to note that some of these requirements can be waived on a case-by-case basis. If you need to fly higher than 400 feet or fly at night, for example, you may be able to apply for an exemption based on Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.

Are drones used for professional purposes fully covered by insurance?

When an architecture or engineering firm is utilizing drones for commercial purposes, it is important to ensure the company is properly protected. But whether or not a company’s professional liability insurance coverage protects them from risks associated with drone usage is not always clear or straightforward.

In almost every scenario of drone usage by architects or engineers there is the potential exposure to various forms of risk professional liability risk. This can be true whether your firm operates the drones directly, or outsource this service.

A great example of the unique nature of drone risk was shared in an article published by AIATrust. Their example is as follows:

If a drone is used to assist in performing an inspection of a project and the firm misdirects the drone so that it does not capture detailed information on one part of the project, thus not providing an appropriate view for the interpretation and evaluation, that missing detail could be a professional liability exposure. If the camera fails to operate properly and information is missing or is the drone crashes into a pedestrian causing a bodily injury, those technological failings are not wrongful acts in the performance of professional services and should not trigger professional liability insurance coverage.

In this scenario, an architecture or engineering firm’s professional liability policy would likely protect them from exposure they face due to missing specific inspection details. However, the firm’s professional liability policy would likely NOT protect them from the bodily injury they caused with their drone. This illustrates the possible coverage gaps that firms could face when it comes to drone usage.

Drones and professional liability insurance coverage

It’s clear that the professional use of drones in the architecture and engineering industry is an innovative breakthrough that is already changing the industry in a positive way. This new technology has allowed those in the industry to save money, prevent injury and more.

That said, when it comes to using drones, architecture and engineering firms need to pay close and careful attention to FAA regulations, and make sure they understand what their professional liability insurance policy does and does not cover.

Learn more about Admiral Insurance coverage for architects and engineers

Admiral Insurance Group is a leading provider of professional liability insurance for architects and engineers, and is known for its expertise in the liability associated with changing laws and technology.

Ask your underwriter how we can protect your customers from risks associated with drone usage!

If you are a retail agent or broker with clients in the architecture and engineering industry, we encourage you to connect with one of our wholesale broker partners.

Products and services are provided by one or more insurance company subsidiaries of W. R. Berkley Corporation. Not all products and services are available in every jurisdiction, and the precise coverage afforded by any insurer is subject to the actual terms and conditions of the policies as issued. Certain coverages may be provided through surplus lines insurance company subsidiaries of W. R. Berkley Corporation through licensed surplus lines brokers. Surplus lines insurers do not generally participate in state guaranty funds and insureds are therefore not protected by such funds.

Matt Thomas

Written by Matt Thomas

Matt has 18 years of experience in Professional Liability insurance. As Vice President at Admiral Insurance Group, he leads a talented team out of Seattle, WA, responsible for underwriting Professional Liability insurance for the E&S sector. Matt also serves as the product lead for Admiral’s A&E and Contractor's Professional Liability practice. He loves being active with his family in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

Topics: drones, architects and engineers


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