What does a midair collision over the Grand Canyon in the mid-1950’s have to do with the roofing industry in 2018? This collision prompted calls on the federal government to establish tighter controls on the nation’s airspace and changed the way airspace is managed and controlled. 

For several years, roofing contractors have been operating in the nation’s airspace performing roof inspections, taking measurements and shooting photos for use in sales and marketing efforts. In the beginning, these were accomplished either by satellite or manned aircraft, but over the past few years the use of small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS, or drones) has taken hold.

The explosive growth of sUAS in all kinds of commerce introduced a lot of new hardware into the air. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recognized the value of sUAS in commerce and public safety and recognized the need to change its rules to accommodate the emergence of this technology.

When roofing contractors first started using drones it was a novelty. They simply ordered a drone and started flying. For the most part that was fine except that the FAA rules governing the use of airspace by all aircraft, manned or unmanned, restricts the use of drones in many cases.

We first reported in 2013 on efforts the FAA initiated to study what changes were required to keep the airways safe, especially for manned aircraft, while accommodating the operation of drones in commerce. In 2015 we reported on the progress being made, which seemed painfully slow.

Fast-forward to 2018 and the regulations covering sUAS have become considerably more user-friendly. The emergence of the recently-announced nationwide expansion of the Low Altitude Authorization Notification Capability (LAANC) is the best news yet for roofing contractors seeking to operate drones under their FAA Part 107 certification. To operate a drone for commercial purposes requires the operator to be certified by the FAA and the operator must follow all the rules for operating an sUAS.

Here’s the bottom line for contractors operating drones in their roofing business: you simply must become compliant with the FAA requirements to operate an aircraft. You must be certified and, perhaps even more importantly, you must be insured. Check with your agent; your existing general liability most likely does not cover your exposure to a drone incident. Your umbrella policy may even exclude drones.

If you’ve been operating as a “hobbyist,” it’s time to step up your game. It’s not difficult to obtain a Part 107 certification and, with the LAANC system in place, obtaining permission to operate in controlled airspace can now be accomplished in near real-time in many cases. This is compared with a process that took 90 days when we first began reporting on this topic.

If you have not adopted the use of drones in your roofing business, it’s time to reconsider. The equipment is easy to use, less expensive, and is available for inspections with great features like zoom lenses and infrared cameras. A reasonably-priced, highly accurate LiDAR (light detection and ranging) mounted on a drone is likely not far behind. And if you employ a drone, you have the safest ladder in the world: the one you never take off the truck.