FAA Bill Would Allow More Drone Use by Insurers

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By Brandon Ross

Feb. 12 — Insurers are throwing their support behind the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill recently approved by a committee, following the adoption of an amendment to let underwriters maximize use of drones to inspect damages following a disaster.

“In the immediate aftermath of natural catastrophes, the impacted areas are often dangerous and inaccessible,” Tom Santos, vice president of federal affairs for the American Insurance Association (AIA), said in a Feb. 12 press release. “The use of small [unmanned aircraft systems] will give insurers the ability to more safely access impacted areas, expedite claims payments and assist in recovery efforts to help local communities get back on their feet.”

H.R. 4441, the Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act of 2016 (AIRR ACT), was approved by the House Transportation Committee Feb. 11 and would reauthorize the agency for six years . The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) and passed on a voice vote.

Top Insurance Priority

“Under the Curbelo amendment, Congress would instruct the [Federal Aviation Administration] to create a framework that could remove unworkable operating restrictions for insurers’ post-disaster drone use and speed help for victims,” the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC) said in a separate press release Feb. 12.

Insurers have long pushed for the FAA to allow them greater freedom in using drones to more efficiently assess damages after natural disasters, and securing that freedom is one of the industry's top priorities for 2016 .

Current commercial regulatory restrictions require insurance drone operators or someone working with them to maintain a line of sight with the drone at all times during flight, and to stay within a certain distance of the drone, NAMIC said.

The reauthorization is expected to encounter opposition on the House floor from appropriators and tax writers who have said they are skeptical of a proposal in the reauthorization bill to create a user-fee-based, non-profit, non-government air traffic control entity.

Congress must act before March 31, at which time the FAA runs out of spending authority for its programs (see related story in this issue).

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Ross in Washington at bross@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com