Allstate nears FAA approval for drone use

The insurer will begin using small, unmanned aerial vehicles to assess and manage both claims and potential risk.

Insurance News


Allstate Corp. is one step closer to becoming one of the first insurance companies to use drones to manage risk and assess claims, following approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Allstate announced Wednesday that the FAA had agreed to allow the insurer to operate unmanned aerial vehicles to inspect property claims on everything from hail-damaged automobiles to flooded homes.

“In the event of a catastrophe, physical access to a neighborhood might be restricted by local authorities or by debris,” the company said in a statement. “In this situation, a drone could potentially help claims professionals serve customers in spite of those restrictions. Ongoing weather could also affect physical inspections of property where a drone might be able to work without any delay.”

The drones will be able to survey property and disaster areas, and take high-resolution images, accelerating the underwriting and claims processes.

Allstate says the FAA approval also paves the way to further research on safety, including collision avoidance, visual line of sight and automated flight planning with drones.

Under the terms of the agreement, drone flights may be conducted over private property with permission from the property owner and be operated by a pilot with a proper license, as well as an FAA airman medical certificate or driver’s license and training.

The use of drones in property/casualty insurance has been widely speculated, and other insurers—including USAA—have filed requests with the FAA to begin using them. Analysts often cite the benefits associated with claims management in their pursuit of commercial drone use.

“One of the areas we are looking to use these in is before and after natural disasters," said Kathleen Swain, USAA property and casualty group underwriter and FAA-rated commercial pilot. "It's sometimes much quicker to get the machine out to these disaster zones than a human body. This could help speed up the process and help put them back to where they were before the claims event.”

Concerns for privacy, however, have also emerged.

“Digital eyes will see anything in their view and send back that information to the party collecting the visual data,” writes Steve Doyle of Willis Aerospace. “This raises privacy concerns issues. Surveillance of employees or non-employees, whether intentional or not, could have serious liability repercussions that will need to be addressed.”

AIG also made headlines last month with FAA drone approval, and has a research and development program in New Zealand, it said, and has begun running test flights with the drones.

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