United Services Automobile Association, the provider of insurance to military families, is seeking permission to use unmanned drone aircraft to survey damage at disaster sites.

USAA requested permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to test-fly 5-pound (2-kilogram) drones in a rural area near its San Antonio headquarters, according to an e- mailed statement from the company today. The firm said it could use drones to examine damage and evaluate claims before sending employees.

“We want to see how tech can better serve our members during catastrophes,” Kathleen Swain, a USAA property and casualty staff underwriter and licensed pilot, said in an interview. “It’s a better and more efficient way to do so.”

Federal regulations permit individuals to fly drones for personal use under certain guidelines, which include staying away from crowds. Commercial use of the aircraft is restricted by the FAA.

USAA said it’s the first insurer to file for an FAA exemption to use drones. The agency has said that more than 40 other companies including Amazon.com Inc. and Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s BNSF railroad have sought permission to use drones for commercial ventures.

The FAA granted six movie and television companies waivers in September to use drones for filming. Earlier approvals for commercial flights had been granted for Alaskan oil operations.

The USAA application hasn’t been posted publicly by the FAA at the www.regulations.gov website. A call for comment to the agency wasn’t immediately returned.
–With assistance from Alan Levin in Washington.