While the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) has announced the annual TCI Expo slated to take place this October in Baltimore has been canceled, industry experts are looking to new sources to learn about the latest technology available in arboriculture.
Some are turning to drone technology with great interest. How can drones be used to help improve tree care service operations, efficiency and customer service?
In addition, will tree care businesses need to add drone insurance to their insurance plans for arborists, or will these machines be covered by general business liability protections?
We’ll explore how enterprising arborists can leverage drone technology to improve their business, and we’ll discuss regulatory factors as well as drone insurance needs. Learn how this up and coming technology could help improve efficiency for tree care professionals.
Using Drones for Commercial Purposes
As of August 2020, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reported that there were nearly 1.7 million drones listed with the agency, of which almost 500,000 were registered for commercial use.
Commercial drones are used in a wide variety of industries, from real estate to agriculture, security and, of course, tree care. While not all of these industries may require specialized drone insurance for arborists, the wide variety of commercial applications in use demands that users pay careful attention to:
- Licensing requirements.
- Technological constraints.
- Regulatory guidelines.
To stay informed about licensing and regulatory updates, TCIA recommended visiting the FAA’s website.
A Tree Care Industry Magazine article from 2016 mentioned that most commercial arboriculture drone applications will involve working with machines weighing less than 5 pounds and flying 150 feet above ground level at their highest. These parameters fall within an FAA guideline known as Part 107. Operators with Part 107 certification could feasibly pilot tree trimming drones. For our purposes, we’ll use “tree trimming drones” to refer to all drones used in tree care — not to imply the drones will be used to actually cut limbs. Tree trimming drones will not be used directly in the pruning process, at least for the foreseeable future.
To become Part 107 certified, tree care professionals could, themselves, take an examination at an officially sanctioned Airman Knowledge Testing Center at a cost of approximately $150, according to the TCIA article.
Otherwise, to use a tree trimming drone, tree care professionals will have to hire a certified drone pilot. Hiring a professional for sporadic support may also be helpful because these pilots are likely to be able to skillfully navigate some of the device’s technological limitations, including their limited battery life.
Use Cases for Tree Trimming Drones
A 2015 Tree Care Industry Magazine article identified several rising opportunities for which drones could prove useful, including:
- Conducting area assessments and inspections.
- Verifying the well-being, vitality and current health of plant life.
- Taking footage for later use in marketing campaigns and training materials.
That last point is not to be glossed over. Tree trimming drones can help your customers and prospects get a clear understanding of your crew’s safety practices and precise work standards, helping you stand out from your competitors. Tree Care Industry Magazine also highlighted that drone photography can be helpful for producing attractive, custom images to bolster your social media presence, too.
Tree trimming drones also allow supervisors to keep a closer on their crews and determine if they’re following protocol for safe rigging and equipment operation while arborists are in the air.
When tree care companies need to conduct inspections in areas that are difficult to access, using drones can often prove more affordable and efficient than renting large-scale equipment like bucket trucks, the Tree Care Industry Magazine article’s authors claimed. As more sophisticated imaging equipment drops in price and companies suited for handling big data enter the space, tree health assessments will increasingly be conducted via tree trimming drones.
What Insurance Is Needed for Using Drones in Tree Care?
Tree trimming drones can be both a bonus for insurance purposes and a unique asset requiring specialized protection.
Tree Care Industry Magazine pointed out that drone footage can help arborist businesses verify for insurance companies that their work for wildfire vegetation management has been completed successfully. For their part, many insurance companies use drone footage to help survey properties that have experienced a natural disaster, facilitating faster claims handling.
As for understanding how drone insurance fits into tree care insurance plans, it’s important to note that many commercial insurance policies for arborists exclude drone coverage. If they’re operated inappropriately, drones can be responsible for substantial physical damage to the property of others, or they could cause injuries. These sophisticated pieces of equipment are also expensive business assets in their own right, which means insuring them from damage or theft should be a company priority.
Drone operators also need to be conscious of not infringing on others’ rights to privacy during the process of flying tree trimming drones and collecting footage, the 2016 Tree Care Industry Magazine article noted.
How Are Claims Handled for Drone Insurance and Tree Care Insurance?
If a drone is insured through a supplemental policy as part of a business plan for tree care insurance, then claims would be handled by that insurance company. If the drone insurance is purchased separately under a private plan, it might not be covered for commercial use. Verify that your drone insurance plan includes coverage for business-related operation, whether the device is used for marketing purposes or inspections. Always make sure that the drone is operated responsibly under the supervision of an appropriately licensed pilot.