Spy DroneAllianz and AIG partnered with a major aviation insurer, a specialized broker and an attorney to launch a new trade association focused on the surging commercial drone industry.

The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Insurance Association, or UASIA, will target commercial drone issues ranging from risk management to safety, education and advocacy. UASIA is barely six weeks old and isn’t formally registered yet as a non-profit organization, but organizers say the process is well underway. Founding members include Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, AIG Aviation, the insurer Global Aerospace and the broker Transport Risk Management.

“There is a strong need for this group,” James Van Meter, aviation practice leader/head of unmanned aircraft systems for Allianz in the U.S., explained during a telephone interview. “It seems like as the industry grows there is a lot of confusion, still, about the availability of aviation insurance, why commercial [drone] operators need the insurance [and] a lot of [other] issues as the industry grows.”

With that in mind, Van Meter said insurers “need to have the ability as an industry to address coverage concerns … and public policy issues, and weigh in on the notice for proposed [drone use] rule making that the FAA has put out recently.”

He noted that insurers are already supportive of the drone industry, and are committed to safety training as well as responsible commercial drone operation to ensure no collisions in the air between manned and unmanned aircraft.

Van Meter estimated there are at least 100 other insurers that potentially could be a part of UASIA, as well as 500 to 1,000 brokers and agents who could gain a chance to have a voice in the regulatory process, plus get educated about insurance issues, needs and other matters “so they can properly get their clients insured.” As well, manufactures, drone operators and “anyone interested in risk management in this specific area” could join UASIA to “be part of the conversation and be part of coming up with solutions,” he said.

Commercial drones “are an emerging industry that is going to continue to grow bigger and bigger every year,” Van Meter said. “This is the right time to join.”

Mark Dombroff, a partner with Dentons US LLP, is co-chair of his firm’s aviation and commercial drone practice, and spearheaded the group’s formation. He is helping to establish USAIR as a formal non-profit trade association, and said the idea came up during a webinar his firm hosted concerning commercial drones-related insurance issues. Such a group can help its expected insurance, broker and drone-industry members shape regulation and insurance requirements/needs as they evolve, he said.

“We’re on a very rapid, steep learning curve and the aviation insurance industry is very well situated to help the drone industry,” Dombroff told Carrier Management. “The [commercial drone] industry accomplished what it wants to accomplish; we don’t have a comprehensive regulatory scheme in place but there is a demand for these services and services are being provided. Integral to that is the insurance piece.”

Dombroff said an insurance-focused, drone-specific association that can chime in on the issue will help set commercial drone guidelines and insurance standards in place “at a very accelerated pace.”

Insurers such as Allianz and AIG have long covered the aviation industry and have been expanding their attention toward covering commercial drones as civilian and commercial use has exploded.

Many insurers also plan to use commercial drowns in their own day-to-day underwriting and claims work. Erie Insurance, AIG, USAA and State Farm are among those that have obtained FAA approval to test or use drone technology for claims and underwriting processes. Erie Insurance disclosed on Oct. 1 that it has moved from testing a drone to actually using one to assist with a property damage claim.

While the UASIA isn’t officially launched yet, Dombroff recently promoted its debut in a Dentons blog posting. Insurance companies and others interested in joining are asked to contact Barbara Butler at barbara.butler@dentons.com.