Drone adjuster: Pa. insurer’s air force

William Penn

Joseph N. DiStefano

One of Pennsylvania’s largest insurers says it has received the Federal Aviation Administration’s blessing to launch its first DJI Phantom 2 quadrocopter drones, which will putter across the skies to spy out your damaged home or car.

Erie Indemnity Co. hopes airborne digital cameras will help it avoid sending so many human adjusters to accident scenes. They’ll also “help with underwriting,” or pricing risk, Erie spokeswoman Leah Knapp told me.

Erie, the 12th largest U.S. auto insurer and 14th largest home insurer, joins AIG, State Farm and USAA in winning FAA backing for drone testing, claims adjustment and underwriting. The company last month won “conditional approval” from FAA “to use unmanned aircraft systems — commonly referred to as drones — in our inspections, risk assessment and management, loss prevention and underwriting evaluations,” according to Gary Sullivan, vice president of property and subrogation claims, in this column 

Drones “will enable us to provide even better service while keeping a personal connection,” Sullivan added. “Drones will help our claims adjusters get an early look at potential damage without putting themselves in harm’s way due to unsafe conditions, such as a steep roof or at the site of a fire or natural disaster. These are the types of situations where small unmanned aerial vehicles can provide a safe and effective alternative” and “fully document the results,” while speeding claims and settlement.

“In particular, we are testing the DJI Phantom 2 Vision Plus quadcopter. It includes a 14 megapixel stabilized camera that can transmit pictures and video. Flights will be operated no more than 35 miles per hour at an altitude of no more than 400 feet about ground level, and always within the visual line of sight of a pilot and an observer,” according to Sullivan

Under FCC rules, “we’re currently training pilots who will be equipped to conduct preflight inspections, handle drones at the right speed and altitude as well as maintain a safe distance from airports and other aircraft. Safety is our top priority. We’re proud to be one of the first insurance companies” buzzing around up there, he concluded.

The drones haven’t been deployed yet — “there’s some training, we have to test them,” Knapp told me. “We’re hoping by this summer. We have two right now. We happen to have a couple of licensed pilots on staff” which speeds approvals.
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/inq-phillydeals/Pa-insurance-company-gets-FAA-permission-to-send-drones-on-claims.html#KzYJjTe4Tg0DZiDs.99

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