There’s no denying that drones continue to be one of the most rapidly growing aviation technologies. In fact, the FAA predicts that by 2021, we could see as many as 6.21 million commercial drones in use. These days, unmanned aerial vehicles are used for a wide variety of purposes–including providing relief after natural disasters.
In the aftermath of recent hurricanes, dozens of drones were deployed to perform critical tasks for people in need of emergency assistance. Drones were used to assess damage to buildings, roads, bridges and power lines, search for victims, and provide valuable coverage for news outlets.
In response to the storms devastating Texas and Florida, the FAA opened the otherwise restricted airspace to at least 43 drone pilots working with public agencies and power and light utility companies. The efforts from drones allowed the pilots to capture aerial images, which assisted in restoring power and delivering supplies. The waivers let pilots fly in the airspace while still adhering to basic regulations for small drones, including flying below 400 feet, within the pilot’s line of sight, and not flying above large crowds. These safety precautions allow drone pilots to operate safely within the airspace of traditional aircraft.
According to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, drones can make a valuable difference in the search and recovery efforts following a natural disaster, offering an advantage in speed and safety over ground-based teams.
“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the hurricane response will be looked back upon as a landmark in the evolution of drone usage in this country,” said Huerta at the Interdrone conference in Las Vegas
Even weeks later, drones can aid in the cleanup and restoration of cities after the destruction caused by a natural disaster. Capable of accessing hard to reach areas, drones can assist in inspecting roads and bridges after major flooding. Insurance companies are also using drones to assess damage and verify claims in the wake of the hurricane damage.