Investigators: Drone fly aways, who pays?
(KMSP) - Drones are expected to be on a lot of gift lists this Christmas. But even if you have no interest in getting one, eventually they will be a part of your life. That can be a good thing and a bad thing. Consumers will buy nearly 700,000 thousand this year, zooming past last year's numbers by more than 60 percent.
At first, the Weigelt family didn't pay much attention to the loud bang outside. Then a neighbor sent a text -- "You may want to come out here to see this."
Right above the peak of the garage roof was where a drone impaled the side of the family's home. It hit with such force that it knocked a chunk of sheet rock off a bedroom wall, costing $7,000 to fix the damage.
"We're fortunate it didn't hit someone in our neighborhood, we've got a lot of kids, people out walking, it was a beautiful morning," said homeowner, Lucas Weigelt.
As the family waited for the police to arrive to write out a report for insurance purposes, a slow moving car came down the street -- "Kind of looking up at the roof and at the house, he got out and said I believe that's mine," recalled Weigelt.
Turns out it was that drone's maiden voyage. The owner was flying it around a park several blocks away when he lost control of it. The homeowners insurance of the drone operator paid most of the damage to fix the Weigelt's house.
If the drone operator would have never shown up, the Weigelts would've filed a claim with their own insurance which might have added insult to injury.
"It could lead to either higher rates or potentially, you getting a notice that your coverage may not be renewed which is a fancy way of saying cancelled," said Mark Kulda from the Minnesota Insurance Federation. "In order for there to be a real impact on homeowners insurance there would have to be a lot of claims and we don't know if that's going to happen yet."
Fox 9 doesn't know if the owner of the "fly away" drone is paying more for insurance now. He didn't respond to a Fox 9 request for an interview.
CRASH TEST AND EXPENSIVE LOST PARTS
Steve Gowdy runs a business that helps companies get FAA approval to fly drones commercially.
His client list includes real estate firms, farmers and film makers. Who does he worry most about flying drones? "The idiots that think they know what they're doing an just go out and fly," he replied.
Right now anyone can buy a drone and be a hobby pilot. No licensing or training is require unless the pilot intends to make money flying one.
The Fox 9 Investigators set up a crash test with the help of Gowdy Brothers Aerospace.
Even the smallest of drones can bust a window if they've got enough speed. Damaging property is one thing but losing equipment is another possible headache for drone pilots.
Gowdy has a client who lost a camera on a drone worth $11,000 -- "Flew it for the very first time, got up about 200 feet and lost control of it and it flew away never to be seen again," recalled Gowdy.
There is a website where people can post "lost drone" messages.
"We've had people, where they don't get em back, either other people find it and are greedy and keep it, or it ends up in a swamp or lake somewhere," said the drone instructor.
Newer drones have safety features like a "return to home" switch that tells the aircraft to go back to the spot where it took off. They can also be programmed to fly within certain boundaries so they don't smash into things.
The FAA and drone enthusiasts are working on ways to enhance safety. Machines which are deemed a higher risk may have to be registered just like any other aircraft. According to the FAA, registration will make sure operators understand the rules and fly responsibly. Later this week a federal government task force is expected to announce its recommendations for a drone registration process.