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Posted on JAN 17, 2017

Drones: Toy or Aircraft?

The FAA has estimated that 2.5 million drones were purchased for personal use in 2016. If you are among the individuals who recently purchased a drone, have you considered if your homeowner insurance policy covers your drone as personal property or provides liability coverage for drone use?

Although legal for personal use, the FAA currently considers all drones to be unmanned aircraft. They require drones to be flown within the operator's field of vision at a height of no more than 400 ft. above the ground, with the exception of restricted air space such as the airport or government installations like the White House. Many insurance carriers agree with the FAA's outlook that despite personal use, a drone is an aircraft. In a standard homeowner policy, aircraft coverage for property damage and personal liability is specifically excluded.

Toy or Aircraft?

Drones introduce a new type of risk to insurance carriers, and the definition of a drone can vary greatly from company to company. For example, in a survey of eight different carriers that Johnson Insurance represents, five consider drones a hobby toy and would cover the property damage under personal property and liability under the limit of the policy. On the other hand, three consider drones an aircraft and therefore exclude coverage in its entirety.

Are You Protected?

It's important to see where your insurance carrier falls on this topic. While it may seem like replacing a drone due to damage is not something you would claim on your insurance, what about liability? Consider the following scenario and questions: You or a family member are using a drone in your backyard, and the drone lands on the neighbor's side of the fence, hovering near a window. Could your neighbor try to sue you for invasion of privacy? What if the operator loses control of the drone, leading to a neighbor's injury? Is this grounds for a liability suit against you? Does your insurance carrier cover you for either of these situations? Any drone owner or operator should discuss these questions with their insurance agent.

An Alternative

For drone users whose insurance carrier excludes coverage by defining as aircraft, there is another option. The Academy of Model Aeronautics offers membership to drone users. There is an annual membership fee that includes the benefit of a $2.5 million general liability protection limit. It is secondary to anything your homeowner policy would provide but is an alternative for drone users who can't find a homeowner program to cover their drone use.

Looking Ahead

While the use of drones is growing daily in both personal and business use, the standards pertaining to them are frequently growing and changing. The FAA is moving forward with regulations for personal use drones, even proposing that drone users register to operate drones. Insurance carriers are beginning to evaluate their policy coverages in regards to drones and the risks they pose to the insured and insurers. In the coming year or two, companies that now have no specific exclusion for drone use may amend their stand on the subject.

To learn more about how your drone fits in to your homeowner policy, contact your Johnson Insurance advisor.