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State Farm Earns FAA's First National Drone Waiver

State Farm employees launches drone
State Farm
Previous waivers State Farm was granted were limited to a short time frame and to specific geographic areas impacted by hurricanes.

State Farm has become the first company granted a national waiver by the Federal Aviation Administration to fly drones over people and beyond the pilot’s line of sight.

The Bloomington-based insurer says increased use of drones will help it more efficiently deploy claims workers after a catastrophe strikes, when people may be blocked by water, debris and damage to infrastructure.

"The type of waiver we've received, it's often called the holy grail."

“It’s not productive to have (our claims force) sitting on the sidelines waiting to be able to get in safely,” said State Farm spokesperson Heather Paul. “If we can have drone technology find the best route in, or (tell us) what type of damage we’re seeing already, that will definitely improve efficiencies, and likely be able to help our customers understand what their damage is and get them to a state of repair much quicker,” Paul said.

FAA rules generally prohibit pilots from flying drones over people and beyond their line of sight. A malfunctioning drone could crash to the ground and injure someone.

State Farm was the first insurer to receive FAA permission to test drones for commercial use in 2015. Last year State Farm secured short-term, limited-area FAA waivers to fly beyond line of sight and over people following hurricanes Florence and Michael. The new national waiver allows State Farm to fly drones across the country through 2022.

“The type of waiver we’ve received, it’s often called the holy grail, because it is very challenging,” said Paul, a drone pilot herself.

State Farm will use two types of drones—one for aerial roof inspections, such as after a hail storm, and another for damage assessment after a catastrophe.

“It’s been a team effort to make drone technology a reality,” State Farm Senior Vice President for Property and Casualty Claims Robert Yi said in a statement. “This is a huge win for our customers and demonstrates we’re recognized as a leader in drone technology.”

State Farm says it demonstrated to the FAA that drones could be operated safely through its research partnership with Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership at Virginia Tech.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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