FAA Waiver Allows Drones Over Construction Sites


The Federal Aviation Administration has recently issued a Certificate of Waiver to Greenly, Colorado-based general contracting company Hensel Phelps for the certified use of parachute-equipped drones on populated construction sites.

The waiver is the first of its kind to be issued in the United States.

The Approval Process

According to the FAA, the Code of Federal Regulations 14, Section 107.39 restricts any small Unmanned Aircraft Systems or drones to operate over human beings. The regulation, also referred to as Part 107, was issued in 2016, but included that operators could apply for exceptions to the rules.

During that time, Nancy Egan, general counsel at Wing—and formerly of 3D Robotics—predicted that operations over people would be one of the most requested waivers.

In confirming her predictions, Hensel Phelps introduced the ParaZero SafeAir Parachute System to the Administration, resulting in a collaboration between the two that lasted a little more than a year to ensure all safety concerns were put to rest.

“Safety is a core value at Hensel Phelps,” said Richard Lopez, Hensel Phelps VDC Manager. “Utilizing sUAS equipped with ParaZero’s SafeAir Systems on our job sites allows Hensel Phelps to operate more efficiently and accurately and we are committed to leveraging this technology as safely as possible.”

In a press release, Hensel Phelps reported that they have been working with drones since 2011 in order to develop best practices and safety protocols for the AEC industry. To accomplish this, the company checked for efficient drone operations and safeguarded job site employees, pedestrians and others who would be impacted by drone usage in all of its nine districts.

Registered as compliant with ASTM F3322-18, Standard Specification for sUAS Parachutes, the system sets a precedent for other operators interested in these types of operations.

Although, the FAA did not specifically certify or approve the parachute Hensel Phelps plans on using, the administration explains that the company’s waiver application sufficiently met standard design specifications and that the use of drones would be safely conducted under the terms and conditions of the waiver.

“Hensel Phelps has been built on four company pillars: People, Process, Partnership and Technology. Drone technology is only in its infancy, and it’s exciting to think about future possibilities and what’s to come,” said Lopez.

“We look forward to further training and developing our team and the visionaries within our company, as well as working with our clients and partners to take sUAS technology to the next level.”

What Now

Applicants who are interested in receiving similar waivers from the FAA will be required to go through the same application process as Hensel, which requires proof of various testing, documentation and a statement of compliance under ASTM F3322-18.

Other potential sought-out waivers include, but are not limited to:

  • Drones weighing less than 55 pounds;
  • Operators keeping drones in their line of sight;
  • Visual observers can only be responsible for one drone at a time;
  • Drone operations can only take course during daylight hours, including 30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset;
  • Maximum drone speed is 100 mph; and
  • Maximum altitude is 400 feet above the ground and higher if the drone remains within 400 feet above a structure.

Recent Drones in Construction

Barely a month into 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration authorized its inspectors to use drones in workplace inspections. Although, it was unclear whether OSHA would consider permission from general contractors sufficient or if consent would be necessary from all on-site contractors.

By June, however, PaintSquare Daily News reported that Hokkaido, Japan-based ready-mix and precast producer Aizawa Concrete Corporation was working with aerospace company Top Flight Technologies Inc. in an effort to utilize its robotic technology for inspections needed to maintain various concrete roads, bridges and infrastructure.

Other reports this year include drones spraying sands and clays onto lightweight structures during Milan, Italy’s design week and even painting a large-scale graffiti project in Torino, Italy.


Tagged categories: Certificate of Waiver; drone; Drones; Federal Aviation Administration (FAA); Good Technical Practice; Health and safety; Inspection; NA; North America; Regulations; Safety; Technology; Tools & Equipment - Commercial

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