Flying a drone? You may need to buy insurance

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Some photographers have found drones, with tiny cameras attached, helpful in taking photos from above the subject. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — The Federal Aviation Administration estimates more than 1 million drones will be sold during the upcoming holiday season.

Everyone from photographers and farmers to law enforcement and hobbyists, it seems, are taking to the air.

As drones become more affordable and available, the skies are getting crowded.

Delaware Insurance Commissioner Karen Weldin Stewart and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners warn personal or commercial use of drones raises some critical insurance issues, ranging from personal injury and property damage to privacy concerns.

Drones are defined as remotely piloted aircraft systems and also are known as unmanned air vehicles. According to the FAA, pilots of unmanned aircrafts have the same responsibility to fly safely as manned aircraft pilots.

Moreover, owners must register drones beginning Monday and pay a $5 fee.

States and municipalities may have their own laws regarding drone use. Before you take flight, first check local, state and federal laws, Ms. Weldin Stewart advices.

Hobbyists have been flying model aircraft for decades. However, advances in technology allow drones to hover quietly and fly far from their pilot.

According to the FAA, 30,000 small unmanned air vehicles will be used for business purposes by 2020. This number does not include drones used by hobbyists.

Some drones weigh up to 55 pounds. So one falling from the sky could cause significant damage to property or bystanders, the insurance commissioner warns.

The FAA guidelines for drone hobbyists include:

• Don’t fly higher than 400 feet and stay clear of surrounding obstacles.

• Keep the aircraft in sight at all times.

• Stay away from manned aircraft operations.

• Don’t fly within five miles of an airport unless you contact the airport and control tower before flying.

• Avoid flying near people or stadiums.

• Don’t fly an aircraft that weighs more than 55 pounds.

• Use caution when flying an unmanned aircraft.

Drones also can present a significant risk to property and life on the ground in the event of an accident, Ms. Stewart Weldin says.

Obtaining insurance for personal use isn’t difficult. Using a private drone as a hobby is generally covered under a homeowner’s insurance policy (subject to a deductible) which typically covers radio-controlled model aircraft. This also applies to a renter’s insurance policy.

The commissioner says people should look at the contents section of their insurance policy, or talk to their agent to see if the drone will be covered if it is lost, stolen or damaged.

If the drone falls onto your car, damage may be covered if you have a comprehensive coverage auto policy.

However, a larger concern is liability for an accident caused by a drone. If it crashes into a person or someone else’s vehicle, the accident is your responsibility.

Other concerns to consider before flying a drone is privacy considerations.

Some are often equipped with on-board cameras and other data-collection capabilities which can pose a threat to privacy.

Beyond intentional surveillance, drones also unintentionally may capture images during routine and unrelated flights. The insurance commissioner reminds drone owners to be mindful of privacy concerns.

Some insurers are developing policies to cover these liability exposures,

The commercial use of drones largely is restricted and operations are authorized on a case-by-case basis. The FAA has started regulating commercial drones with proposed rules such as requiring pilots to obtain special certificates, keeping drones away from bystanders, and restricting when and where they can fly.

The proposed rules also prohibit drone delivery of packages. Since final rules have not been implemented, they are not being enforced.

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