Munich Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurers, has partnered with PrecisionHawk, a global, drone data platform, to enhance insurance assessments worldwide by providing faster response times and increased reporting accuracy in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

Munich Re will contract teams that cover North America and Latin America for its first deployments.

The partnership was recently exercised following the April earthquake in Ecuador, where PrecisionHawk collected drone imagery of the disaster site within days of its occurrence. The images were processed and analyzed in PrecisionHawk’s data software and delivered to Munich Re. Through this partnership, Munich Re aims to more effectively assess the extent of damages and respond to claims more quickly.

“The cooperation with PrecisionHawk will speed up loss assessment and estimation of losses in the aftermath of a natural disaster significantly,” says Tobias Büttner, head of corporate claims within Munich Re. “Our clients will benefit not only from the high resolution of spatial data, but also from processing the data with algorithms. Combining these new algorithms and modeling methods with Munich Re’s claim expertise will enhance and accelerate existing loss adjusting procedures for example by helping to deploy loss adjustment resources more efficiently.”

In one 45-minute flight that covers nearly half a square mile, PrecisionHawk’s service team drones can collect high-resolution imagery and deliver data that can reduce the need to deploy adjusters to affected areas. Reaching areas that are dangerous or inaccessible for manual inspection and efficiency in overall claims processing has piqued the interest of the global insurance industry. www.precisionhawk.com

Global Hawk gets ISR payload adapter

Using a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, partnering with Northrop Grumman and Air Combat Command, has solved the problem of how to connect existing and future information-gathering sensor capabilities not currently designed for the Block 30, RQ-4, Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft system. Through the CRADA, the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) payload adapter (IPA) was conceived and flown within seven months.

“The IPA allows the RQ-4 to adapt and go beyond its current sensor capabilities. An example is the recent successful flight of an Air Force legacy system, the Senior Year Electro-Optical Reconnaissance System-2 (SYERS-2) intelligence gathering sensor on the Global Hawk,” says Global Hawk Program Director Col. Darien Hammett.

“The IPA allows vendors to use some or all of the 17 physical attachment points on the IPA, know how much power is available, and make crucial data exchanges with the aircraft. Basically everything needed to design, build, and mount a sensor on a Global Hawk,” Hammett says. “Opening up the architecture of the air system will provide added sensor technology opportunities through increased competition, which is our goal.” www.wpafb.af.mil

Shadow TUAS surpasses 1 million total flight hours

Textron Systems Unmanned Systems’ Shadow tactical unmanned aircraft system (TUAS) has surpassed 1 million total flight hours. More than 85% of these flight hours occurred during combat operations.

Since its introduction in 1999, the Shadow TUAS has received various upgrades, including all digital, encrypted communications, increased bandwidth, and onboard power supporting multiple payloads in a single sortie, extended wings and engine improvements, and an interoperability compliant network. The Shadow TUAS supports the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), and armed forces in Italy, Sweden, and Australia.

The Shadow V2 is an all-digital system optimized for the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance role. The system has been fielded successfully alongside Apache helicopters for ongoing aerial scouting combat missions. www.textronsystems.com

FAA finalizes rules for commercial, small UAS

The Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has finalized the first operational rules for routine commercial use of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), opening pathways toward fully integrating UAS into the nation’s airspace.

The new Part 107 rule, which takes effect in late August, offers safety regulations for unmanned aircraft systems (drones) weighing less than 55 lb conducting non-hobbyist operations.

Industry estimates state the rule could generate more than $82 billion for the U.S. economy and create more than 100,000 new jobs during the next 10 years.

Rule provisions are designed to minimize risks to other aircraft and people and property on the ground. The regulations require pilots to keep an unmanned aircraft within visual line of sight, and operations are allowed during daylight and during twilight if the drone has anti-collision lights. The new regulations also address height, speed, and other operational limits, such as prohibiting flights over unprotected people on the ground who aren’t directly participating in the UAS operation.

The FAA is offering a process to waive some restrictions if an operator proves the proposed flight will be conducted safely under a waiver. The FAA will make an online portal available to apply for these waivers in the months ahead.

“With this new rule, we are taking a careful and deliberate approach that balances the need to deploy this new technology with the FAA’s mission to protect public safety,” says FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “But this is just our first step. We’re already working on additional rules that will expand the range of operations.”

Under the final rule, the person actually flying a drone must be at least 16 years old and have a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating, or be directly supervised by someone with such a certificate. To qualify for a remote pilot certificate, an individual must either pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center or have an existing non-student, Part 61 pilot certificate. If qualifying under the latter provision, a pilot must have completed a flight review in the previous 24 months and must take a UAS online training course provided by the FAA. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will conduct a security background check of all remote pilot applications prior to issuance of a certificate.

Operators are responsible for ensuring a drone is safe before flying, but the FAA is not requiring small UAS to comply with current agency airworthiness standards or aircraft certification. Instead, the remote pilot will simply have to perform a preflight visual and operational check of the small UAS to ensure that safety-pertinent systems are functioning property. This includes checking the communications link between the control station and the UAS.

Part 107 will not apply to model aircraft, which must be operated only for hobby or recreational purposes.

“The potential for unmanned aircraft will make it safer and easier to do certain jobs, gather information, and deploy disaster relief,” says U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We look forward to working with the aviation community to support innovation, while maintaining our standards as the safest and most complex airspace in the world.” www.faa.gov/uas

Sharp growth predicted for UAS in US, globally

Cleveland-based industry research firm the Freedonia Group forecasts demand for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the U.S. to rise 10% annually to $4.4 billion in 2020, and the number of vehicles sold will more than double to 5.5 million.

The military market accounts for the majority of demand in dollar terms, while the consumer market accounts for more than 99% of all units sold. U.S. Department of Defense spending for drones is expected to climb at only a moderate pace through 2020 and beyond, due to budgetary constraints and a shift to smaller, less expensive vehicles. During the next decade, sales for consumer UAVs are forecast to grow at explosive rates.

Smaller commercial and nondefense government markets together accounted for less than 5% of the 2015 drone sales total in value terms, but with new FAA regulations, the commercial small UAS market will expand faster than any other major market during the next decade in both dollar and unit terms. Military UAVs will remain the largest single market in value terms, accounting for more than half of total spending in 2020.

The global military unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) market, worth $8.5 billion in 2016, is expected to grow at a combined annual growth rate of 4.89%, to $13.7 billion by 2026, according to online market research company ReportsnReports.

North America is projected to dominate the market with a share of 32% across the forecast period, followed by Europe at 31%, and Asia-Pacific at 30%. The Middle Eastern market for UAVs is expected to account for 4%, followed by Latin America and Africa with a cumulative share of 2%.

High-altitude long-endurance UAVs and unmanned combat aerial vehicles are expected to account for 34% and 29% of the global military UAV market respectively. www.freedoniagroup.com; www.reportsnreports.com