A recent Intelligent Insurer article highlights a stark warning to the insurance industry of the risks related to drones. On Monday, April 18, 2016, at 3:37 PM, a British Airways flight from Geneva approaching Heathrow Airport was reportedly hit by a drone, according to London’s Metropolitan Police.

The plane, an Airbus A320, landed safely with 132 passengers and five crew members on board. The incident is believed to be the first of its kind in the UK.

Stephen Landells, flight safety specialist at the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA), predicted such an incident last month in an interview with Intelligent Insurer available here .

He said drone usage has been growing in the UK and the US and that many were being used dangerously close to airports. Landells also said that BALPA wants the British Government to look at the registration of drones in order to trace the owners should any incidents happen. It would also be helpful if as a part of that registration process new owners could be given training and safety information.

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We asked our Senior Associate of Research & Development, Justin Nardone, a few questions around his experience and insights on the topic:

What experience do you have with drones?

I have been flying drones for around 2 years now here at TT. I have used them on dozens of projects and over 100 flights.

What has have been your experience with drone safety and altitude restrictions, if any?

We always keep the drone under 400 feet, but typically much lower than that. Generally, we are keeping them away from highly-occupied areas. When we have had to fly them in occupied areas, it is mostly on construction sites where people are already wearing safety gear, and we notify everyone on the job site of what we are doing.

What does drone training encompass?

There are a few training methods. We have simulators on the computer that use the actual drone controller – this allows people to get a real feel and develop hand-eye coordination. We also do live training in open areas to get an employee / pilot used to navigating the drone and how the software and flight controller works. The final part of training occurs on a real job site.

What model of drones have you used and/or recommend to cover large areas? Over sea water? To travel long distances? How does size impact drone selection?

We are primarily using DJI Phantom drones. They are the right size for most of the work we do, and are easily transportable in carry-on luggage. They are good for small to midsize structures. For larger infrastructure projects, we would need a larger drone with a higher resolution camera and longer flight time. We have one budgeted for this year and look to get that up and running soon.

What type of expert is best qualified to manage drone flight?

I get that question a lot! I think you have to be a bit mechanically inclined and like to tinker with stuff to keep a drone maintained and flying well. To fly a drone in close proximity to a building, you have to have good hand-eye coordination – I suppose if you played with remote control vehicles or video games you would be a good candidate!

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Are there any potential risks?

There are always risks that something could go wrong on a job site, but I think using the drones minimises risks quite a bit. Often we are flying drones into areas that would normally be unsafe for a person – like a collapsed building or a facade that would require rigging to hang off the side. Also, newer drones have a lot of redundancies built in (i.e. obstacle avoidance) and we will be incorporating drones with these capabilities in the coming year.

What are the benefits of using drones to evaluate construction sites or areas after a natural or man-made disaster?

The main advantage is speed, as well as point of view. We can fly a drone over a 10 acre site in a few hours and acquire high resolution images that same day. We are able to relay this information to the rest of the team right away on site. Having this information early helps everyone get a better overview of the project and assists the first stage of planning and disaster recovery. With some more processing, we can even generate 3D models that the teams can use to take measurements and help initial assessments, especially in areas that are hard to access.

You can read the full Intelligent Insurer article here: Drones risks come to fore as aircraft collides with UAV in UK

Let us know your thoughts on the registration and training related to the usage of drones in the comments below.