Drones and Insurance

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), otherwise known as drones, appear to be moving closer to commercial application, and property/casualty insurers are getting involved.

On the one hand, insurers are looking at ways to use this emerging technology to improve the services they provide to personal policyholders, at the same time they are assessing the potential risks of commercial drone use for the businesses they insure.

The Chicago Tribune this week reported that several home and auto insurers are considering the use of UAVs, and at least one has sought permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to research the use of drones in processing disaster claims.

According to Sam Friedman, research team leader at Deloitte, drone aircraft could be the next mobile tech tool in claims management.

In a post on PC360.com, Friedman says that sending a drone into a disaster area would enable insurers to deliver more timely settlements to policyholders and spare adjusters from being exposed to the hazards of inspecting catastrophe claims in disaster areas.

Commercial insurers also have a huge stake in the drone business. In a recent post on WillisWire, Steve Doyle of Willis Aerospace, says businesses need to consider UAV risk issues such as liability and privacy:

Risk managers for organizations that could potentially gain considerable competitive advantage from eyes in the sky should consider the risk issues now so they are ready to advise their organizations as UAV options broaden.”

Insurance is not the only industry eyeing commercial applications. Agriculture, real estate, oil and gas, electric utilities, freight delivery, motion pictures, to name a few are seen as major potential markets for UAVs.

A recent report by IGI Consulting predicts that U.S. sales of UAVs could triple to $15 billion in 2020 from $5 billion in 2013.

However, the broader commercial use of drones in the U.S. will depend on federal regulators developing appropriate rules. In September the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave the go-ahead for six TV and movie production companies to use drones for filming.

In his WillisWire post, Doyle notes that regulation is a key element to the successful widespread development of the drone industry in the U.S. given the complexities of the liability environment, the crowded skies over metropolitan areas, and the variety of UAVs and their uses.

One thing’s for sure, when UAV use takes off in the U.S., insurers  are ready to  support this emerging technology both as risk takers and risk protectors.

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