The Federal Aviation Administration approved requests this week from USAA to test drones to speed the review of insurance claims following natural disasters, and from American International Group to conduct inspections drones for risk assessment and management, loss control and surety performance for U.S. customers.

“With this approval we can operate on our own for further research and development and then onto operational status after catastrophes to help our membership with their claims,” Kathleen Swain, innovation advisor for USAA and licensed commercial pilot, flight instructor and drone pilot for the USAA team, tells Insurance Networking News.

See also: USAA Approved for Drone Research

Drone sales this year are project to hit $130 million and 400,000 units, a 55 percent increase compared to last year. The economic impact from job creation and integrating drones into U.S. airspace is forecasted to create more than 70,000 jobs and $13 billion in economic impact in the first three years, according to “The Economic Impact Of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the United States,” a study by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

In disaster areas, drones can conduct surveys of with high-resolution images for faster claims handling, risk assessment and payments, AIG said. They also can reach areas that could be dangerous or inaccessible for manual inspection quickly and safely, and offer richer information about properties, structures and claim events.

“AIG is committed to continuous improvement and innovation in providing better, faster, and safer risk and claims assessments to our customers,” said Eric Martinez, EVP, claims and operations, AIG. “Leveraging cutting edge technologies like UAVs can enhance our ability to assess and mitigate risks to better help our customers and their communities prepare for and rebuild after a catastrophic event.”

AIG previously had established an international drone research and development program and conducted flights in New Zealand. Those flights have offered insights on technology, flight operations and image collection techniques that will be incorporated into AIG’s global drone strategy, the company said.

USAA has been doing research and development on drones since 2010, Swain said. Previously, the insurer was operating in collaboration with FAA test sites at Texas A&M and College Station. With this approval USAA can operate independently on further research and development and go into operational status in the event of a catastrophe to help its members with claims.

USAA, however has limited its FAA requests to CAT response. FAA regulations stipulate that drones may not be operated over populated areas, which potentially could limit drone usage in CAT situations. But Swain said USAA is continuing to work with FAA on such use cases.

“We saw the catastrophes as being the greatest time of need, and it can really show the benefits of this technology. We’ll dovetail with the roof inspections later,” Swain said. “That’s experience we have already gained through Texas A&M in an organization called Robotocists without Boarders. We’ve been able to deploy, as USAA, in collaboration with them to disaster events to see how this technology works.”


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