Drones in Tree Care

Drones in Tree Care

SJust thinking about using drones in tree care gets me excited. Being able to get a bird’s eye perspective while standing safely on the ground definitely has its advantages for your company. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates that by 2021 there will be 3.5 million unmanned aerial vehicles in the United States with 1.6 million of them being used for commercial purposes. A large percentage of those commercial drones will be used in the tree care industry. So if you’ve been thinking about using them, here are some things to consider.

Uses for Drones:

Drones can be utilized in many different ways within the tree care industry. The most common application for them will be in doing visual inspections. The operator can perform both Level 1 (fly-over) and Level 3 (aerial inspection) tree risk assessments. Flying a drone up and over the crown of a tree can help limit unnecessary or potentially dangerous climbs by identifying hazards before a rope is set.

How about using them for planning out landscape design or tree replacement plans? The US Forest Service is already using drones for overall forest health assessments. They also are being utilized for help in disaster area cleanup, where the workers on the ground cannot see beyond their immediate vantage point. The drone can give them an idea of what dangers lie ahead as they work their way through the damaged area.

Even though Jamie Hyneman was unsuccessful at retrofitting a pruning shear onto a drone in a recent episode of MythBusters, advancement of this piece of equipment will probably one day include a pruning or removal drone.

Issues to Consider:

As with any new equipment or technology, drones have limitations and issues to contend with. By no means do I want you to think these are deal breakers, but rather items that you must consider before going out to purchase a drone for use in your tree care company.

Flight Times: Currently, flight times are limited to only 15-20 minutes even less when winds higher than 15 mph. The batteries aboard drones today take a while to charge back up, so an experienced pilot must have a plan in place before the drone is turned on so they can capture as much data as possible in that small amount of time.

Regulatory: Laws for drone usage are continuing to be created however currently, there are three major regulatory issues to understand.

500 feet height limit. The FAA has limited drone flight height to minimize accidents with aircraft and lost drones. Many drones have geolocators built into them now that limit the height.
Operator must possess the following documents:
Section 333 Exemption or Aircraft Certification
Certification of Authorization (COA)
Aircraft Registration and Markings
Pilot Certificate

Cannot fly over people unless the commercial operation entails recording the people. Your COA will state the commercial application that you are authorized to use the drone for.

Liability: Drone operators are subject to a number of liability issues that you need to be aware of. These are the two main issues to focus on.

Injury or property damage to others – Whether it was from the pilot’s error or a mechanical failure, drones can cause significant damage.
Privacy – Most states recognize some sort of tort for invasion of privacy. The laws have different components concerning privacy, but generally contain one of these principles.
Public disclosure of private facts.
Intrusion – The plaintiff must demonstrate that there was an intrusion upon his or her physical solitude or seclusion and be offensive or objectionable to a reasonable person
Appropriation of name or likeness – When someone’s name or likeness is used for commercial or newsworthy purposes.
False light in the public eye or defamation of character.

Insurance: Just like technology changes the laws we abide by, it also has a great impact on the insurance coverages available. Almost every General Liability insurance policy issued today have considered drones with most of them specifically excluding coverage.

Exclusions – CG2109, CG2110 and CG2111 are all used to remove coverage for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. The difference between these three exclusions is how much coverage is removed. From excluding everything to do with a drone to only removing coverage for just privacy concerns, your General Liability policy probably has one of these three attached.
Physical Damage Coverage – With prices ranging anywhere from $75 to $3,000 and beyond when specialized cameras are added, it is important to think about insuring the drone for the damage while flying.

Despite the concerns that I listed in this article, using drones in your tree service can be a huge differentiator for your organization and can literally take your business to new heights!

Written by: Eric Petersen