PORTLAND, Maine — Maine’s insurance bureau wants this year’s newest batch of drone pilots to prepare for the worst.
The Maine Bureau of Insurance last week issued a consumer notice urging drone owners to make sure they explore what kind of insurance coverage they have before taking to the skies.
The concern comes as consumer drone technology advances and made the typically four-rotored, camera-equipped aircraft a popular 2016 holiday gift.
The bureau urged new pilots to check existing homeowners or renter insurance policies to see what they cover. Specifically, whether the policies cover damage to the drone itself and any damage to another person or another person’s property.
“If your drone crashes into someone else’s vehicle or a person, the accident is your responsibility,” the bureau stated in its consumer alert. “If you have a homeowners or renter’s policy, generally the policy will cover liability for an accident caused by your drone.”
Drone sales are expected to surge in the coming years, prompting more attention from the insurance industry and regulators, who last year initiated a formal registration process for consumer drones.
The Federal Aviation Administration last year forecast that the number of hobbyist drones would more than double from 2016 to 2020, hitting about 4.3 million. Commercial drones it estimated would hit 2.7 million units by that year.
Through May 2016, the FAA reported almost 2,000 hobbyist drones had been registered in Maine, marking the first batch to register under a system it implemented in late 2015.
That registration system is separate from exemptions the FAA allow for commercial drone uses and guidelines issued last year for certain commercial uses.
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With that many new aircrafts in the sky, the FAA said the new registration rules would help it during investigations and would allow it to gather data about drone use.
That information and registration system also make it easier to track a particular drone back to an owner, which the state’s department of insurance wrote “means it’s vital to be in compliance with the laws and regulations and have the appropriate insurance coverage.”
That may be covered by homeowners’ or renters’ insurance, but the CEO of a relatively new commercial drone insurance startup said such plans can be vague, have exemptions for any aviation uses and increasingly exclude drone uses specifically.
“The trend is that homeowners’ [insurers] are explicitly excluding drones even for recreational uses because it’s just not a risk they’re used to in their pricing models,” said Jay Bregman, CEO of Verifly Insurance Services.
The company offers an app to deliver location-based insurance quotes at rates it says begin at $10 per hour, primarily for commercial clients, across 48 states. Bregman said the product is intended for small drone businesses who can save with what’s called “episodic insurance” rather than annual plans.
“Whether it’s photography or inspection at cell towers, it’s very unpredictable work and they never really know what’s going to be coming or how much work they’re going to be doing,” Bregman said.
The company shows one way that insurers are trying to meet the demand for new pilots in the rapidly developing drone market. Since starting in August, Bregman said his company’s app has been downloaded by about 10,000 on Apple or Android devices.
Just two years ago, it took an insurance broker for the Cumberland-based Sevee and Maher Engineers about two weeks to find a willing insurer for its commercial drone.
That was after the company had watched federal regulations back down from requiring commercial operators to have a full pilot’s license, opening up an individualized application process for flying commercial drones.
Bregman said that about 95 percent of his company’s business is for commercial drone users who have passed a certification test with the FAA, though he expects the recreational insurance market will grow, too, citing the federal forecast that 7 million hobby drones will hit the skies by 2020.
“That’s a real mass market product,” Bregman said.
The Maine Bureau of Insurance said that consumers with related questions could call their Property and Casualty division at 800-300-5000 or 624-8475.