Drones, on Demand

More lenient FAA regulations allow drone pilots to launch new businesses in the U.S.
By: | November 2, 2016 • 7 min read

When the Federal Aviation Administration eased licensing requirements on piloting drones in late August, conditions ripened for explosive growth in their use. Yet the vast majority of drones are not insured, according to experts.

More than 600,000 drones will be sold this year for commercial use in the skies over the United States, according to FAA estimates. That’s three times more than manned aircraft such as airplanes and helicopters. An additional 1.9 million drones will be sold to hobbyists for recreational use, the FAA forecast earlier this year.


Look ahead to 2020 and the FAA expects there will be more than 4.7 million drones flying worldwide.  Each and every one has the potential to crash into buildings, wires or worse, people. The downstream effect of these accidents could be more worrisome than the crash itself.

Increasingly, drones are a standard business tool used to survey crops and construction sites, photograph properties for real estate listings and insurance assessments, and even to deliver goods. Expect them to become much more commonplace as companies discover new and creative uses, and drone manufacturers find ways to make them smaller, cheaper, safer and easier to use.

Yet, 80 percent of all drones in use today may be uninsured, according to one estimate. Many are piloted by neophytes who sat on the sidelines until the FAA’s less restrictive guidelines opened the door for them to soar the skies this year.

“For the first time in aviation history, you’ve got tens of thousands of people bringing flying lawn mowers up into the air without any formal background in aviation training or any understanding of the international air space system,” said Alan Perlman, the founder of UAV Coach, a website offering industry information and training certification to drone pilots.

Swiss Re brought together drone experts, hackers, business leaders and insurance experts to discuss the risks and insurance underwriting of drones.

More drones taking to the skies add new risks and vastly change the insurance business, according to a report by Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS): “Rise of the Drones: Managing the Unique Risks Associated with Unmanned Aircraft Systems.” The U.S. drone insurance market may be worth more than $500 million by the end of 2020, according to the report. Globally, it could approach $1 billion.

Global Aerospace Inc., a leading provider of aircraft insurance and risk management solutions, was one of the first to offer drone insurance under an aviation policy just four years ago.

“The sheer volume of requests for insurance is fast becoming overwhelming, and I think it will continue to grow at an exponential pace,” said Christopher Proudlove, senior vice president, general aviation team leader of the Northeast regional office at Global Aerospace.

“Covering the hazards and coming up with the appropriate products is probably the easiest part; dealing with the volume is going to be a challenge.”

Insurers are working to offer affordable products to the growing crowds of drone pilots. Niche brokerages aimed at commercial drone pilots are springing up, as are tech startups offering on-demand insurance apps, Uber-like drone pilot searches and safety features for night or long-distance flying.

On-Demand Drone Insurance

One company, Verifly, developed a mobile application offering on-demand drone insurance at hourly rates.

Verifly was launched in August in a partnership with Global Aerospace. It offers $1 million in liability insurance for as low as $10 an hour on any drone weighing less than 15 pounds and flying up to a one-quarter mile away from the pilot. Users order the insurance on their phones and receive instant approval.

Christopher Proudlove SVP Global Aerospace

Christopher Proudlove, SVP, Global Aerospace

Verifly uses geospatial mapping to assess the risks based on location and current weather conditions to provide a real-time quote. Users can purchase third-party liability insurance instantly. Coverage includes injury to people and property damage, unintentional invasion of privacy and unintentional flyaways.

“We are assessing ways to make the process of buying drone insurance easier because we recognize the fact that the vast majority of operators are millennials who rely on their smart phones,” Proudlove said.

“We definitely have some projects in the works that will help facilitate buying insurance. This is a user group that won’t be walking down to the local insurance office to fill out an application with a pen.”

FairFleet, developed in partnership with Allianz X (which helps develop new business ideas in the insurance space), is another new product that could be described as Uber for the drone business. Currently available in Europe — and planned for the U.S. next year — it connects “drone for service” pilots with nearby businesses in need of one-off jobs.

The FAA Requirements

Under the updated FAA rules, commercial drone pilots must pass a written test to receive certification. In the past they were required to obtain a manned aircraft pilot’s license first and submit detailed logs for each flight.

Now, owners register when they fly an unmanned drone outdoors weighing more than 0.55 pounds but less than 55 pounds. Under FAA regulations, devices can’t be flown higher than 400 feet and should not fly over populated areas, near airports or after dark. The operator must be able to see the device at all times.


The FAA is working with companies such as CNN (on using drones for newsgathering in populated areas) and BNSF Railroad (on using drones in rural/isolated areas out of sight of the pilot) to test safety technology under a program called Pathfinder.

While operators must have a drone pilot certification, there’s currently no rules on the actual drone, unlike the rigorous requirements the FAA places on manned airplane manufacturers.

“Certainly a great distinction can be drawn between that and manned aircraft,” Proudlove said.

“You can go onto the internet, spend $800 and two days later a drone turns up on your doorstep that has no federal oversight whatsoever. Moreover, you can go off and operate it commercially and for recreation.”

It’s an interesting dilemma for insurers who have to consider the safety of the drone in the absence of any federal oversight. If just one commercial drone crosses into the path of an airliner, the collision damage could exceed $10 million, not to mention the potential loss of lives.

“I see a lot of people missing a lot of steps and this is where insurance is really important,” said Perlman of UAV Coach.

“You can go onto the internet, spend $800 and two days later a drone turns up on your doorstep that has no federal oversight whatsoever. Moreover, you can go off and operate it commercially and for recreation.” — Christopher Proudlove, SVP, Global Aerospace.

Far too often, he said, people watch a “cool video on YouTube and think they can buy a drone, get unmanned pilot certified, and instantly have a profitable business.”

“There’s a lot of work to do,” he said.

“That’s where the industry is now; helping to facilitate that path for drone pilots,” Perlman said, noting that his drone insurance guide is the most popular page on his website.

Insurers routinely mandate higher safety standards than those set by the FAA for traditional aviation risks, Global Aerospace said in a report.    Merely meeting the legal safety requirements to become a pilot may not be enough to guarantee that a new operator will be a safe operator.

“The minimum FAA standard is a great starting point and new commercial operators may need additional training to be proficient and safe,” said James Van Meter, an aviation practice leader at AGCS who helped to write the AGCS study.

“We are used to dealing with certificated pilots, certificated aircraft, a different level of sophistication and sort of a shared fate; if we insure a pilot in an airplane, his fate is in his own hands when he’s operating his own aircraft.”


With drone use, the pilot may be minimally trained and newly certificated, and operating equipment that cost under $1,000, so “there’s no shared fate,” Van Meter said.

“There are some challenges there, but the new regulation provides good basic training on air space, risk management and some introductory safety issues,” he said.

Alexander Sheard co-founded Skyvuze Technologies LLC, a brokerage specializing in drone insurance, after he had trouble figuring out how to insure the drones he used in an aerial photography business.

Sheard said Skyvuze bridges the gap between drone entrepreneurs and the underwriters that offer unmanned aviation policies. He helps other drone pilots figure out what insurance they need and additional safety measures they should take.

“It’s really looking at all the risk and exposure and coming up with a complete package for these new operators that are popping up every day,” Sheard said.

Any commercial drone operator should assume that their customers and partners will eventually require them to certify that they are insured, Sheard said. Many experts also expect to one day see a type of vehicle registration similar to that required on cars.

“The ones that recognize there are risks as a key part of their business every time they bring this bird up into the sky, those are the ones that are going to be successful,” Perlman said.

“Those are the ones insurance companies are going to want to work with because they are mitigating their risks anyway and they have a ‘safety first’ mind-set.”


“We don’t yet truly understand the hazards, we don’t understand the capabilities of the system, how long they’ll last, what type of experience an operator needs to safely operate a certain make and model of drone,” Proudlove said.

“We are learning all this as we go. It’s really unbelievable what we are going to see over the next couple of years as far as the drone pilots and continued innovations,” Perlman said.

“That’s really exciting but I’m worried for that one operator who loses control for whatever reason and, maybe it’s cynical, but these things are dangerous.” &

Juliann Walsh is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Focus: Cyber

Expanding Cyber BI

Cyber business interruption insurance is a thriving market, but growth carries the threat of a mega-loss. 
By: | March 5, 2018 • 7 min read

Lingering hopes that large-scale cyber attack might be a once-in-a-lifetime event were dashed last year. The four-day WannaCry ransomware strike in May across 150 countries targeted more than 300,000 computers running Microsoft Windows. A month later, NotPetya hit multinationals ranging from Danish shipping firm Maersk to pharmaceutical giant Merck.


Maersk’s chairman, Jim Hagemann Snabe, revealed at this year’s Davos summit that NotPetya shut down most of the group’s network. While it was replacing 45,000 PCs and 4,000 servers, freight transactions had to be completed manually. The combined cost of business interruption and rebuilding the system was up to $300 million.

Merck’s CFO Robert Davis told investors that its NotPetya bill included $135 million in lost sales plus $175 million in additional costs. Fellow victims FedEx and French construction group Saint Gobain reported similar financial hits from lost business and clean-up costs.

The fast-expanding world of cryptocurrencies is also increasingly targeted. Echoes of the 2014 hack that triggered the collapse of Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox emerged this January when Japanese cryptocurrency exchange Coincheck pledged to repay customers $500 million stolen by hackers in a cyber heist.

The size and scope of last summer’s attacks accelerated discussions on both sides of the Atlantic, between risk managers and brokers seeking more comprehensive cyber business interruption insurance products.

It also recently persuaded Pool Re, the UK’s terrorism reinsurance pool set up 25 years ago after bomb attacks in London’s financial quarter, to announce that from April its cover will extend to include material damage and direct BI resulting from acts of terrorism using a cyber trigger.

“The threat from a cyber attack is evident, and businesses have become increasingly concerned about the extensive repercussions these types of attacks could have on them,” said Pool Re’s chief, Julian Enoizi. “This was a clear gap in our coverage which left businesses potentially exposed.”

Shifting Focus

Development of cyber BI insurance to date reveals something of a transatlantic divide, said Hans Allnutt, head of cyber and data risk at international law firm DAC Beachcroft. The first U.S. mainstream cyber insurance products were a response to California’s data security and breach notification legislation in 2003.

Jimaan Sané, technology underwriter, Beazley

Of more recent vintage, Europe’s first cyber policies’ wordings initially reflected U.S. wordings, with the focus on data breaches. “So underwriters had to innovate and push hard on other areas of cyber cover, particularly BI and cyber crimes such as ransomware demands and distributed denial of service attacks,” said Allnut.

“Europe now has regulation coming up this May in the form of the General Data Protection Regulation across the EU, so the focus has essentially come full circle.”

Cyber insurance policies also provide a degree of cover for BI resulting from one of three main triggers, said Jimaan Sané, technology underwriter for specialist insurer Beazley. “First is the malicious-type trigger, where the system goes down or an outage results directly from a hack.

“Second is any incident involving negligence — the so-called ‘fat finger’ — where human or operational error causes a loss or there has been failure to upgrade or maintain the system. Third is any broader unplanned outage that hits either the company or anyone on which it relies, such as a service provider.”

The importance of cyber BI covering negligent acts in addition to phishing and social engineering attacks was underlined by last May’s IT meltdown suffered by airline BA.

This was triggered by a technician who switched off and then reconnected the power supply to BA’s data center, physically damaging servers and distribution panels.

Compensating delayed passengers cost the company around $80 million, although the bill fell short of the $461 million operational error loss suffered by Knight Capital in 2012, which pushed it close to bankruptcy and decimated its share price.

Mistaken Assumption

Awareness of potentially huge BI losses resulting from cyber attack was heightened by well-publicized hacks suffered by retailers such as Target and Home Depot in late 2013 and 2014, said Matt Kletzli, SVP and head of management liability at Victor O. Schinnerer & Company.


However, the incidents didn’t initially alarm smaller, less high-profile businesses, which assumed they wouldn’t be similarly targeted.

“But perpetrators employing bots and ransomware set out to expose any firms with weaknesses in their system,” he added.

“Suddenly, smaller firms found that even when they weren’t themselves targeted, many of those around them had fallen victim to attacks. Awareness started to lift, as the focus moved from large, headline-grabbing attacks to more everyday incidents.”

Publications such as the Director’s Handbook of Cyber-Risk Oversight, issued by the National Association of Corporate Directors and the Internet Security Alliance fixed the issue firmly on boardroom agendas.

“What’s possibly of greater concern is the sheer number of different businesses that can be affected by a single cyber attack and the cost of getting them up and running again quickly.” — Jimaan Sané, technology underwriter, Beazley

Reformed ex-hackers were recruited to offer board members their insights into the most vulnerable points across the company’s systems — in much the same way as forger-turned-security-expert Frank Abagnale Jr., subject of the Spielberg biopic “Catch Me If You Can.”

There also has been an increasing focus on systemic risk related to cyber attacks. Allnutt cites “Business Blackout,” a July 2015 study by Lloyd’s of London and the Cambridge University’s Centre for Risk Studies.

This detailed analysis of what could result from a major cyber attack on America’s power grid predicted a cost to the U.S. economy of hundreds of billions and claims to the insurance industry totalling upwards of $21.4 billion.

Lloyd’s described the scenario as both “technologically possible” and “improbable.” Three years on, however, it appears less fanciful.

In January, the head of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre, Ciaran Martin, said the UK had been fortunate in so far averting a ‘category one’ attack. A C1 would shut down the financial services sector on which the country relies heavily and other vital infrastructure. It was a case of “when, not if” such an assault would be launched, he warned.

AI: Friend or Foe?

Despite daunting potential financial losses, pioneers of cyber BI insurance such as Beazley, Zurich, AIG and Chubb now see new competitors in the market. Capacity is growing steadily, said Allnutt.

“Not only is cyber insurance a new product, it also offers a new source of premium revenue so there is considerable appetite for taking it on,” he added. “However, whilst most insurers are comfortable with the liability aspects of cyber risk; not all insurers are covering loss of income.”

Matt Kletzli, SVP and head of management liability, Victor O. Schinnerer & Company

Kletzli added that available products include several well-written, broad cyber coverages that take into account all types of potential cyber attack and don’t attempt to limit cover by applying a narrow definition of BI loss.

“It’s a rapidly-evolving coverage — and needs to be — in order to keep up with changing circumstances,” he said.

The good news, according to a Fitch report, is that the cyber loss ratio has been reduced to 45 percent as more companies buy cover and the market continues to expand, bringing down the size of the average loss.

“The bad news is that at cyber events, talk is regularly turning to ‘what will be the Hurricane Katrina-type event’ for the cyber market?” said Kletzli.

“What’s worse is that with hurricane losses, underwriters know which regions are most at risk, whereas cyber is a global risk and insurers potentially face huge aggregation.”


Nor is the advent of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) necessarily cause for optimism. As Allnutt noted, while AI can potentially be used to decode malware, by the same token sophisticated criminals can employ it to develop new malware and escalate the ‘computer versus computer’ battle.

“The trend towards greater automation of business means that we can expect more incidents involving loss of income,” said Sané. “What’s possibly of greater concern is the sheer number of different businesses that can be affected by a single cyber attack and the cost of getting them up and running again quickly.

“We’re likely to see a growing number of attacks where the aim is to cause disruption, rather than demand a ransom.

“The paradox of cyber BI is that the more sophisticated your organization and the more it embraces automation, the bigger the potential impact when an outage does occur. Those old-fashioned businesses still reliant on traditional processes generally aren’t affected as much and incur smaller losses.” &

Graham Buck is editor of gtnews.com. He can be reached at riskletters.com.