Once a construction company decides it wants to integrate drones into its operations, it needs to take several steps before taking flight to mitigate risk and ensure the technology is used effectively. This article is based on an this news post, but slightly rewritten to be applicable for European companies.

Know the laws

There are strict rules in place for unmanned vehicle flight. If a construction company isn’t informed about these regulations, it can open itself up to myriad penalties and risks. In most European countries the drone has to stay under a maximum weight, stay in operators’ line of sight, be flown only above people directly involved with the operation and be used only during daylight hours, among other restrictions. The drone must also be registered and its pilot certified through a knowledge test.

Companies can apply for an exemption to these rules, but without that waiver, they can face steep civil penalties and fines if they are found in violation. Firms must also stay current on future changes to commercial drone rules.Location is a key consideration for construction and real estate applications of UAVs. Utilizing drones in a remote location would likely be less complicated than using UAVs in a densely populated urban area where the company must take into account the potential of flying over people.

Decide who’s going to fly the drones

Once a company knows the rules for commercial drone use, it must decide whether to develop an in-house team to run UAV operations or to partner with a third-party provider.

Service providers are experts in the requirements of the states and municipalities in which they operate and can ensure the construction firm is complying with local and state regulations as well. There are a lot of technicalities around the regulations. A third-party provider can assist construction companies through every step of the process, from securing a qualified pilot, to complying with regulations, to choosing hardware and software, and to analyzing the data collected from the UAV.

The core question, even if you do it all internally, is scaling. Are you able to roll out drones enterprise-wide? For some companies, building an in-house team to oversee their drone operations is more efficient than using third parties. Small and midsize firms are usually quicker to take the in-house tack, as they are more willing to tolerate risk. Each company and situation is of course different, and those looking to implement drones must choose for themselves the option that carries the least amount of risk.

Secure the proper insurance

The third-party provider or in-house team must then choose from endless drone hardware options, with typical costs ranging from 500 euro to 5,000 euro for a single device. That hardware can become a big investment for a construction company, and obtaining the proper insurance can help manage risk down the line. Construction firms should consider liability insurance — in case the drone damages property or harms a person — and hull insurance, which covers damage to the UAV.

Develop company guidelines for drone use

A key step for construction firms looking to integrate drones in their operations is the creation of company-wide training documents and processes for all project stakeholders prior to any drone flight. Companies should set guidelines for how they want to utilize drones and what data they want to collect from them. You need a protocol for how you’re using the technology and what you hope to get out of it.

Those guidelines can also serve as a way for people in the company who are launching their first drone flight to avoid common mistakes. You need to have a good understanding of what you are getting, and more importantly, what the limitations are. A number of hard-to-control factors can hinder an otherwise-successful drone flight, including high winds and inclement weather. There are some limitations out there to be aware of and plan around.

Be open to change

The drone industry is constantly evolving, and construction companies should be adaptable to changes in regulations, as well as open to possible new uses for the technology. In the future you will see companies that will be approved for beyond-line-of-sight flight, night flight, flight over people — that wasn’t really allowed before. Some of the regulations will become more relaxed with how reliable the technology is, so that companies can do more advanced things.

The industry is still emerging and has room to grow as more companies take advantage of UAVs and find more sophisticated uses for their capabilities.

Photo by Aetos Drones.