A law was passed last year that empowers the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to modernize the nation’s air traffic control system. What does that have to do with the roofing industry? Read on.

Among the items cited in the law was the mandate that the FAA open up the skies to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, by the fall of 2015. As is often the case with technologies developed for military use, public agencies such as police and fire departments will probably be the first to obtain a license to operate drones.

This paves the way for commercial use of drones. The Detroit Free Press recently reported that the FAA estimated that there may be about 7,500 commercially-operated drones, not including drones flown by public bodies, active in the United States in about five years. Roofing contractors will be prime targets of operators selling photographic, video, and measuring services conducted by drones.

The military, which has been practicing the use of drones for decades, began by deploying them on missions that were, as the saying goes, “too dull, dirty or dangerous” for manned aircraft. As I imagine uses for drones in the roofing industry, I add “too expensive” to that list.

Drones will offer a broad array of solutions for roofing contractors seeking to control their workflow while demonstrating key data to their clients. Following are a few examples of the work drones will be able to perform for roofing contractors in the not-too-distant future. Many of these things are presently accomplished through the use of manned helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, but in some cases — as in rural areas — they are so expensive that they are seldom used. Today aerial measurement services provide reports with extremely accurate measurements that help contractors do everything from preparing the estimate to determining the best traffic patterns on the jobsite. Drones could expand the use of aerial measurements and make the information available in real time.

Drones could be used to measure and document as-built conditions as the roof deck is being installed or is completed before launching roof construction. Great intelligence is always good when it comes to how the building, especially the deck, is constructed prior to beginning roofing work. This data can be useful in real time but may prove even more so 15 or 20 years later when the roof must be replaced.

On structures with steep-slope roofs there is the potential for more aerial measurements using drones, which could potentially fly closer or take in more real estate in rural areas. Also, taking aerial measurements of roof decks in real time would be a nice tie-in with computer-integrated roll-forming systems. Updates for cut dimensions could be uploaded without setting foot on a ladder.

Surely there are many issues to work through with regard to the use of drones by the public in public airspace. But the genie is out of the bottle, and these issues will ultimately be resolved. Drone operators may not be offering their services to you today, but they will be in the near future. And this development will make for a most interesting future for the roofing industry.