Product Family


Construction companies that use Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) on their job sites experience immediate and tangible benefits, including ROI gains like saving hundreds of man-hours on job surveys, safety/quality inspections, progress, and documentation activities, etc. UAVs (drones) can be used for gathering and documenting routine project site data, and very effective for dangerous, dull, repetitive and/or dirty jobs where quick turnaround between data gathering and actionable information provides a competitive edge. Another key aspect is the decrease in accident exposure to craft workers. Instead of sending a 2-person crew up 60’ in a boom lift to inspect an expansion joint or caulk joint, a drone can be used. This use case can mitigate accident exposure, potential damage to the building, and decrease equipment time.

Common uses for UAS in construction industry include:

  • Flying and documenting new construction sites to assess existing site conditions and identify potential schedule impact issues, such as cut and fill, slope, changes in surface soils/coloring, and identifying other important surface features like utility vaults, manholes, illegal hazmat dumping, etc.
  • Planning, management, and inspection documentation of Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans (SWPPP). This applies to nearly all projects as the site changes with grading, access roads, and new foundations it is important to monitor and adjust silt fence, inlet protection, waddles, straw bales, and other erosion control measures or BMPs on the site. The aerial photos provided work well to create real time site maps to track progress. Additionally, the documentation collected will be very useful if the EPA shows up to a jobsite.
  • Identifying of site entry/egress points, lay-down areas, and planning material storage areas in advance to reduce material handling/travel distance and assist in planning the movement of equipment and sequencing of work.
  • Gathering data to be entered in a BIM to generate virtual reality (VR) simulations of buildings and surroundings before construction actually begins. This technology creates a baseline model of the site and makes contractors more efficient with prefabrication efforts.
  • Flying very precise, pre-determined site pattern when matched and coordinated with ground coordinates to monitor grade, depths of excavations, stockpile volume changes and take-off’s etc. UAS devices can be set up to automatically fly surveillance for site security in daylight and at night, saving labor costs.
  • Capturing reality to ensure and document that the Owner/Architect design matches what was built, including change orders. Drones can be used to document weekly job progress, document the pre-pour placement of rebar, PT tendons, MEP block-outs for the BIM model, conduct and record building envelope inspections during construction, e.g., correct installation of window, parapet & roofing systems. This documentation may assist in litigation of potential defect claims that may arise years later.
  • Documenting compliance with Maintenance of Traffic (MOT) designs used in highway work.
  • Inspecting cranes
  • Rapidly deploying and documenting damages/claims after a catastrophic collapse or storm event. UAV’s are perfect for quickly documenting large-scale catastrophic weather events/damages that are required for filing and expediting damage/builders risk claims.
  • Providing Live-feed jobsite videos for owner, architect/engineer, and safety surveys.
  • Developing marketing and construction progress videos for clients.

Specialized UAS payloads and software may include:

  • Infra-red (FLIR) payloads for measuring temperature gradients in building envelope. Identification of leaking window seals or finding holes (leaks) in roof membranes is priceless when documenting installation of new work, or when documenting existing conditions on buildings to be modified.
  • LiDAR payloads for survey-grade laser scanning of existing site/building conditions, documenting work-in-place. This valuable in¬formation can be uploaded to a 3D/4D BIM model in near real-time via point cloud. Typically requires 6 or 8 bladed drones for stability, wind resistance and battery life. Insurance should cover CGL and “hull” coverage due to expensive payloads.
  • Instruments for measuring 02 deficient atmospheres, CO2, CO, H2S, Methane and other potentially hazardous atmospheres that may impact workers.
  • 3D BIM software – Through use of three-dimensional data, CM/GCs can capture accurate data at various stages of planning and construction. UAV’s are well-suited for quickly modeling buildings and large areas. Using photogrammetry or LiDAR, drones can provide faster and more frequent modeling at a much lower cost than current mapping methods.
  • Tethered (intrinsically safe) drones (aerial and ground-based) can be used for tank inspections, radiation detection, measuring air quality in confined spaces with hazardous or O2-deficient atmospheres.

Instead of sending a 2-person crew up 60’ in a boom lift to inspect an expansion joint or caulk joint, a drone can be used.

In-House or Outsourced drone program?
Companies must weigh the benefits and risks of developing an in-house program. Additionally, an understanding of company goals is critical in this process. What will the UAV be used for? Use case examples are outlined above to recap usage can range from aerial site photography and documentation to creating highly technical point cloud models used for cut and fill calculation and even real time BIM coordination.

Important considerations for contractors and service providers include meeting and staying up to date with changing FAA regulatory requirements for remote pilot training & certification, the costs related to buying, maintaining, and upgrading drone(s), documenting flight hours, processing data, providing notice to FAA when flying in or close to controlled airspace, etc.

Many large construction companies with robust VDC groups have their own UAV’s and software for near real-time data use and decision making. Even so, many will want a trusted partner to provide full-service data gathering and processing for their PM/building software, safety, and QC program documentation, as noted above.

UAS vendors for our construction customers will typically fall into two primary categories:

  1. In-house UAS program — Those that have a robust VDC group with in-house survey and data gathering, information processing and software solutions, e.g., BIM and point cloud software, but are not currently be using drones. If they would like to get their employees trained to be FAA 14 CFR Part 107 certified Remote Pilots in Charge (RPIC) to gather and process their own data with in-house drone devices and software. They will need to have insurance, SOP’s, and flight software to do pre-flight planning, document operator flight hours, drone device hours and maintenance, and access to flight planning tools, like LAANC. There are online training academy’s available that can help guide new pilots through the process of obtaining the Part 107 license and understanding FAA regulations and best practices.
  2. Outsourced Program — Those who may or may not have a VDC Group but prefer to outsource most or all of their UAS services to an insured, pre-screened vendor, who will gather and process data in the requested client format and provide experienced, qualified FAA Part 107 certified pilots. The vendor should provide quick access to flight planning tools, provide FAA flight permission or waivers if needed, and offer cloud-based data acquisition and processing with quick turnaround. If using a turnkey approach, the vendor is responsible for screening and training of pilots, UAV maintenance, bonding, and insurance. Pricing for flights and data gathering is typically based on the number of flights expected for a customer per month. In general, the more flights the lower the price. Ensuring adequate risk transfer contract language is in place with vendors is an important consideration when outsourcing service. Suggested criteria for contractors seeking best-in-class vendors include:
  • Ability to train your UAS operators & prepare them for the FAA Part 107 exam.
  • Vendor provides a database of FAA Part 107-certified UAS pilots by location, specialty/service need, drone devices available for flight, and insurance coverages accessible on their platform. For contractors exclusively using vendors, this is a big plus.
  • Vendor offers UAV flight data gathering on a secure cloud-based website specific to the client, so Owner, PM, C-Suite, quality, and safety teams can access and view data from remote locale.
  • UAS program management, including tracking of pilot FAA certs and device registration, flight records, maintenance, and battery life. Battery life cycle is the one of the most critical elements of UAV’s, as their battery life is finite.
  • Flight planning - Access to FAA’s online Low-Altitude Authorization and Notification (LAANC) flight authorization system to determine if the drone flight will be in/near FAA controlled airspace, and if permission or waiver is required in advance.
  • FAA Waiver assistance for Beyond Visual Line of Sight ops, night flights, and flights over people.
  • Vendor data acquisition & processing, analytics software must easily integrate with contractor programs like Arc Cad, Autodesk Bim360, Procore, Pix4D. etc.
  • Nice to have - Auto-takeoff & landing feature, using pre-determined flight path & flight tracking designated by the user. Open a suitcase, turn on the device, and it does the rest, returning to base when the flight is complete.

Insurance Considerations - Subcontractor or Vendor Risk Transfer
For CM/GCs with subcontractors or vendors using UAS for projects, or when partnering with a vendor, they should understand the potential risks of using UAS on their projects and have the appropriate contractual language and risk transfer mechanisms in their contracts. Equally important, contractors should ensure that their own GL policy dovetails with the service provider coverage and exclusions. It is imperative that contractors consult with in-house legal counsel, risk manager, and insurance broker to ensure specific UAS insurance needs are covered.

If, as part of the performance of the Work, a subcontractor or vendor operates UAS or hires their own vendor, the subcontractor should provide and maintain liability insurance for operations of the UAS. This liability insurance is provided by either a separate aviation policy or an endorsement to the general liability policy, provided that the limit of liability is no less than $1,000,000 per occurrence. Regardless of the form of insurance provided, the owner, and any other party as required by the contractor may be included as additional insureds and a waiver of subrogation would apply in favor of all additional insured parties.

Subcontractors should also warrant, at a minimum, that aircraft will be registered, maintained, and operated in accordance with: Applicable user manuals inclusive but not limited to the manufacturers and Operators maintenance and operations manuals; FAA Regulations, FAA Mandatory Advisory Circulars or Notice to Airmen issued by the FAA, maintenance & inspection schedules.

Potential challenges to implementing a UAS Program:
Lack of knowledge of the potential benefits of using UAS, including the ROI potential over traditional survey and inspection methods can initially a hurdle for some companies. In the construction & engineering industry, high-value use cases for drones aren’t hard to find, and an AXA XL Risk Engineer can assist in providing this information through one of our vendor partners.

Funding may seem to be an obstacle for drone programs, and drone advocates may struggle to get corporate approval to fly on the job site unless they can prove that drones can make an adequate and immediate return on investment. However, the fact is that many contractors start with 1-2 devices on 1-2 projects, then scale as the ROI becomes evident to the C-Suite.

Advantages to implementing a UAS Program
Some of the more obvious advantages for implementing UAS at construction companies include:

  • Adding a competitive advantage on data gathering used for project management, preconstruction, 3D/4D BIM models, etc. This results in increased ROI.
  • Speeding up data collection and processing for actionable visual data.
  • Eliminating reliance on helicopters or planes
  • Increasing productivity, risk reduction, and potential to lower workers’ comp and general liability claims experience (and related costs).
  • Eliminating employee exposure to dangerous, dirty, dull, and/or redundant tasks.
  • Reducing equipment time as drones can be used in some cases for inspections in lieu of a manlift.
  • Enabling owners to see their projects in near real-time as they are built. Use data for progress and design meetings.
  • Documenting and reality capture of in-place work, with easy access to very detailed electronic data for defending or assigning responsibility against erroneous defect claims, or proving the design or fabrication was insufficient vs. the installation.

Unmanned Aerial Systems require an initial investment, specialized equipment, thoroughly trained and qualified/licensed personnel, and rigorous standard operating procedures in place by both in-house VDC Teams and UAS vendor providers. However, the tangible benefits (including the ROI) of UAS programs by construction companies are substantial. Through UAV adoption construction teams can decrease inefficiencies in the construction process leading to increased safety, production and profitability.

For further information, assistance with making a use case to your management, or introduction to one of AXA XL’s Ecosystem Tech Partners, please reach out to your AXA XL Risk Engineer. Also, check out our Construction Ecosystem technology partners for further information about UAS and other vendors we work with.


About the Authors

John Babel, CRIS, STSC, is a Senior Construction Risk Engineer with AXA XL's North America Construction unit. Jared Bush-Howe is also a Construction Risk Engineer with AXA XL.

To contact the author of this story, please complete the below form

Invalid First Name
Invalid Last Name
Country is required
Invalid email
Invalid Captcha

More Articles

Global Asset Protection Services, LLC, and its affiliates (“AXA XL Risk Consulting”) provides risk assessment reports and other loss prevention services, as requested. This document shall not be construed as indicating the existence or availability under any policy of coverage for any particular type of loss or damage. AXA XL Risk. We specifically disclaim any warranty or representation that compliance with any advice or recommendation in any publication will make a facility or operation safe or healthful, or put it in compliance with any standard, code, law, rule or regulation. Save where expressly agreed in writing, AXA XL Risk Consulting and its related and affiliated companies disclaim all liability for loss or damage suffered by any party arising out of or in connection with this publication, including indirect or consequential loss or damage, howsoever arising. Any party who chooses to rely in any way on the contents of this document does so at their own risk.

US- and Canada-Issued Insurance Policies

In the US, the AXA XL insurance companies are: AXA Insurance Company, Catlin Insurance Company, Inc., Greenwich Insurance Company, Indian Harbor Insurance Company, XL Insurance America, Inc., XL Specialty Insurance Company and T.H.E. Insurance Company. In Canada, coverages are underwritten by XL Specialty Insurance Company - Canadian Branch and AXA Insurance Company - Canadian branch. Coverages may also be underwritten by Lloyd’s Syndicate #2003. Coverages underwritten by Lloyd’s Syndicate #2003 are placed on behalf of the member of Syndicate #2003 by Catlin Canada Inc. Lloyd’s ratings are independent of AXA XL.
US domiciled insurance policies can be written by the following AXA XL surplus lines insurers: XL Catlin Insurance Company UK Limited, Syndicates managed by Catlin Underwriting Agencies Limited and Indian Harbor Insurance Company. Enquires from US residents should be directed to a local insurance agent or broker permitted to write business in the relevant state.