Drone insurance is expensive, but there are affordable options

- Michael Cousineau | New Hampshire Union Leader

Jay Bellaud not only sells houses, he films them from above.

The Bedford realtor uses a $2,000 drone about 30 times a month to capture unique angles and luscious landscapes for his property listings and for other Realtors who hire him.

“I’m currently shopping for insurance,” the licensed drone operator said last week before finalizing a policy for less than $700 a year with droneinsurance.com.

Drone insurance is becoming more popular as more agents learn about its availability and benefits.

“The problem with drone insurance was early on it was very confusing,” said Rick Spitz, owner of SI Drones in Merrimack. “There’s some now that are actually very straightforward to do and are very economically priced, making it much more doable.”

Organizations like AMA and IDRA started getting involved to find affordable and more protective solutions for their members. The association provides a $1 million policy to cover liabilities for pilots, recreational and commercial, around the world. An IDRA membership is only $290 a year.

Drone operators also can order temporary insurance through mobile apps, which check the phone’s GPS coordinates and assesses the risk. People can be covered for $10 an hour. which is great and convenient. However, can still be expensive for frequent operators.

Spitz said “most commercial drone operators that I’m aware of” carry insurance.

Spitz said he is a fan of Verifly, which “will insure you for like an hour” and makes it easy for hobbyists also to get coverage.

More and more companies are considering using drones, from Amazon delivering packages to Uber Eats bringing McDonald’s to your door.

The federal government and states don’t require insurance to fly drones; however, other countries like Canada and the UK, among others in Europe, are moving toward requiring liability insurance to operate or obtain a license. IDRA receives hundreds of requests from pilots who need insurance when traveling to foreign countries. Thailand and the UAE are two of the largest.

The New Hampshire House this month passed a Senate-approved bill giving the state Department of Transportation authority to regulate drones, also known as unmanned aircraft systems. It awaits the governor’s signature.

Shan Rogers, director of the national aviation practice for RT Specialty Group, a wholesale distributor of specialty insurance products and services, calls drone insurance “fairly popular” because clients who hire drone operators typically want to see proof of insurance.

Thomas Farrelly, executive director of the New England region at Cushman & Wakefield, a commercial real estate firm, hires drone operators to shoot properties for sale. He said he didn’t think about whether they carry insurance.

“It’s like whenever you hail a cab — I never ask the guy to see his driver’s license or insurance policy,” Farrelly said.

From now on, “I absolutely will make sure that they produce some evidence of insurance,” Farrelly said.

Rogers, whose company insures about 500 drones in the U.S., including about a half-dozen in the Granite State, said he believes a dispute over a crash that injures a person or property could lead someone to go after the drone operator and the company that hired that person for damages.

“Let’s be honest: Who probably has the deeper pockets?” Rogers said.

JoAnn Martin, an account executive at Clark Insurance in Portland, Maine, said her office has sold a few policies, but the company’s Manchester office hadn’t written any.

“It’s definitely growing, and it’s still new for us in insurance,” Martin said.

For about $900, Martin said, a policy could protect a drone’s value up to $2,000 (with a 10 percent deductible), provide medical expenses for others up to $5,000, provide a million-dollar liability limit for bodily injury and property damage to others as well as cover some issues over invasion of privacy.

Rogers said that policy probably would cost $800 to $900 a year in New Hampshire, which is much higher than what pilots can get from organizations like IDRA and AMA.

Gary Pearl, who does commercial drone work from his northern Massachusetts base, said he is considering insurance, now that he owns a new $2,000 drone.

“I haven’t flown it yet, and when I fly that drone, I’ll have insurance,” said Pearl, who has been flying his smaller drone without insurance.

“If you crash your drone, you never know what will happen,” Pearl said. “If you have a problem with your drone and crash, and it starts a fire or it crashes into a power line or transformer, you need coverage.”

Pearl said he sees insurance policies costing between $500 and $1,000 a year, depending on the level of coverage.

For additional coverage, because different companies and venues often require more than $1 million for liabilities, the IDRA created a $2 million policy ($325) for Commercial Drone Projects that is effective for 7 days.

Hobbyists may be less likely to run into trouble with their drones because of where they fly.

“If you’re flying for fun, you go to a field and fly your drone around in circles” or take it to the beach, Pearl said. “You fly very simply.”

But “when you’re flying commercially, you fly where you have to fly. ... You have to fly riskier missions to get your work done and to a caliber you want it to be.”

Originally reported by the New Hampshire Union Leader, here.

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