The use of drones in the construction project marketplace


As the use of drones becomes more popular and widespread, businesses in the construction industry are beginning to evaluate how drones can assist them in performing their work more effectively and efficiently. The use of new unmanned aerial technology in this field gives us a glimpse into the future of building projects.

In Ohio, construction firms are continuing to explore the value that drones can add to construction projects and repair work. Heapy Engineering, a nationally-recognized engineering firm headquartered in Dayton, recently contracted with 3D Aerial Solutions, LLC, a local drone startup, to assist Heapy with its construction design and planning process. Heapy’s vision is to more easily obtain access to data that is difficult or expensive to gather at ground level or by hand.  For example, Heapy plans on using drones to engage in thermal imaging of existing buildings, and they hope the drones will be able to provide additional information about roof and façade assessments as well as the current state of a building’s infrastructure.

While companies like Heapy Engineering believe that such a partnership will be fruitful, from a legal perspective, the use of drones in construction work remains largely untested. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) controls the use of drones for commercial purposes. Prospective companies must satisfy the following four requirements before using drones for non-recreational purposes:

  1. File for (and receive) a grant of exemption to use the drones under Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and  Reform Act of 2012;
  2. Obtain a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization from the FAA for their proposed use;
  3. Register their drones with the FAA; and
  4. Retain a licensed drone pilot with an FAA airman certificate.

Despite these federal hurdles, other Ohio construction companies are beginning to see the value drones can add to their day-to-day operations. Danis Building Construction Company, with three large offices throughout Ohio, and Woolpert, Inc., a Dayton-based surveying company, have also started to incorporate drones into their work.

Right now, no state regulations concerning commercial drone use exist in Ohio. It remains to be seen whether lawmakers in Ohio will pass legislation further regulating the use of drones, either in field of construction or more broadly. However, the benefits of drone technology, especially with regard to construction projects, suggest that the commercial use of drones may quickly become more widespread. For now, interested companies should ensure that they apply for Section 333 exemption, keep a licensed drone pilot on staff, and comply with the FAA’s other registration requirements and regulations. Companies interested in using drones now or in the future should keep an eye out for further legislation at the state and the local level.

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