FAA: Smaller Contractors Using Construction Drones the Most

Mon June 06, 2016 - National Edition
Giles Lambertson

The day is near of UAVs being commonplace pieces of construction equipment.
The day is near of UAVs being commonplace pieces of construction equipment.

Drones are taking off as a construction tool. What is interesting is that it is the little guys, that is, smaller contractors, who are most often employing the small unmanned aerial vehicles.

Proof of this is in a report from the Federal Aviation Administration. The agency is systematically issuing exemptions to applicants so that they can fly drones without being flagged for encroaching on public airspace. The FAA so far has issued more than 3,100 of these so-called Section 333 exemptions and about 1,500 of them have gone to construction-related applicants.

According to the agency, construction firms booking less than $1 million in annual business volume and employing fewer than 10 employees so far account for about 90 percent of the FAA's exemptions. That is a remarkable statistic that suggests smaller contractors see drones as everyday-project tools.

Most drone work to date has been for cursory site inspections and similar eye-in-the-sky assignments. Yet the technology and its pilots are pushing ahead. Real estate developers are using the drones to photograph and videograph houses and properties, and at least one innovator reportedly is working on a paint drone so people don't have to get on ladders for second-story stuff.

Advances are being made in synchronizing drones so a team of the aerial machines can independently but cooperatively complete separate tasks in a project. So far, a rope bridge was constructed using three four-prop drones and a brick-like tower was erected with several drones hauling in the building blocks.

However, most drones are not yet big enough to haul consequential amounts of material to rooftops or hard-to-reach parts of a work site. And still being developed are the interactive control and spatial systems sophisticated enough to warrant contractors investing in drone “crews.”

Yet drones are coming. You can almost hear them. The day is near of UAVs being commonplace pieces of construction equipment. And it is likely to happen first at a small, neighborhood contractor near you.