USAA plans to start testing drones as a tool to help speed review of insurance claims after natural disasters.
The insurer announced on April 6 that it obtained Federal Aviation Administration approval to move ahead in its plans with the controversial technology, after filing for an FAA exemption in October.
“We’re proud to be among the first insurers approved to test this technology, Alan Krapf, president of USAA Property and Casualty Insurance Group, said in prepared remarks. “It’s our responsibility to explore every option to improve our members’ experience.”
State Farm billed itself earlier in March as the first insurer in the United States to gain FAA approval to test drones for commercial use. State Farm said it will research the technology and how it might benefit customers. Initially, it will explore the use of drones to assess possible roof damage during the claims process and respond to natural disasters.
USAA said it plans to pursue its current drone test with U.S. drone-marker PrecisionHawk, with a goal of developing best practices, safety and privacy protocols and procedures. It will fly PrecisionHawk-made drones during the day, within line-of-sight of a trained pilot and air crew. Drones will also fly at a maximum altitude of 400 feet, and USAA must report all flights to the FAA before takeoff.
Without the exemption, USAA could only pursue drone test flights at FAA-approved sites.
Another FAA exemption application filed in November awaits approval, and it would allow USAA to have a wider ability to use drones in catastrophes, USAA said.
The FAA loosened some requirements in March for obtaining government permission to fly commercial drones. Regulators issue their waivers under a Congressional program that allows the flights even as the FAA develops more formal regulations. After the FAA issued proposed drone rules, also in March, the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies issued comments that were partially positive. But NAMIC also said the proposed rules could hinder the use of some commercial drones.