FAA said that the unmanned aircraft have been invaluable in supporting response and recovery efforts in the battered state.
When Irma’s winds and floodwaters caused damage, a wide variety of agencies sought FAA authorisation to fly drones in the affected areas. The FAA responded quickly, issuing a total of 132 airspace authorisations as of last Friday to ensure the drones can operate safely.
For example, the Air National Guard has used drones normally tasked for combat operations to perform aerial surveys. The drones allow the Guard to assess disaster-stricken areas quickly and decide which are the most in need of assistance.
Similarly, US Customs & Border Protection sent drones from Corpus Christi to Florida to help map areas in Key West, Miami and Jacksonville, using radar to survey geographic points on infrastructure such as power plants for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Private sector drones have been at work as well. For instance, Airbus Aerial, the commercial drone services division of Airbus, is helping insurance companies act more quickly on claims coming in from homeowners. The company is combining data from drones, manned aircraft and satellite data to give a clearer overall image of specific locations before and after an incident.
Irma left approximately six million Floridians without electric power. In the northern part of the state, Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) is using drones to assist not only with power restoration, but also to ensure the safety of its crews. JEA said it was able to get all its damage assessments done within 24 hours after the storm passed through.
Drones also have played a significant role in helping Florida Power& Light (FPL) restore electricity - especially air conditioning - for its 4.4 million customers. The company has 49 drone teams out surveying parts of the state still not accessible by vehicles. Some of the drone operators FPL hired were flying within an hour after the storm winds subsided.