Now a contractor can invest in a drone, have its “pilots” pass a simple exam and background check—and take to the air.
The Federal Aviation Administration's new rules on drones give construction industry companies more reason to fire up unmanned flying vehicles. However, the FAA is keeping the drones on a short leash, which is apt to prove aggravating.
The federal agency dropped the waiver process by which companies had to make a case for each individual application and then wait for weeks while regulators considered it. Now a contractor can invest in a drone, have its “pilots” pass a simple exam and background check—and take to the air. The FAA expects hundreds of thousands of companies across the economic sector to do just that.
Yet barriers remain to drones becoming practical additions to a construction equipment fleet. For one thing, a drone must operate in the line of sight of its operator. That sounds reasonable, but significantly restricts the parameters of drone operation. Many job sites extend beyond the horizon yet are well within the limits of a controlled drone. Look for some enterprising earthmoving company to bulldoze a mound near the center of a work site and place a chair atop it for a drone pilot.
The FAA's maximum allowable altitude of 400 feet is not a problem. That exceeds the practical limits of a drone's usefulness in most construction situations. Nor is a legal top speed of 100 mph a disqualifying number for contractors, who aren't cranking up the little birds to race them. But the FAA's allowable total weight of 55 pounds could crimp a contractor's drone utilization. In an industry of heavy iron, a couple of tools and a machine component can quickly exceed that weight, which means drone flights from a shop to an idled machine are unlikely.
Ever cautious, the FAA is issuing waivers from the above restrictions on a case-by-case basis. Contractors may respond just as cautiously, by first renting a drone and pilot. If the price is right, that could be worth a try.