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Eye in the Sky: Why Drones in Construction Are Suddenly So Popular

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, are suddenly everywhere in the construction business. Drones in construction are used for various applications in preconstruction, safety or security monitoring, and site inspections.

But just how common are drones on construction sites today? What are they used for? And are there any legal pitfalls surrounding using UAVs that companies should know about? Read on to find out.

How Prevalent Are Drones in Construction?

Drones in construction have become big business, with the global construction UAV market increasing by more than 20 percent from 2021 to 2023 (to $6.01B). Commercial UAV News predicts that number will rise to $12.27B by 2028 with the growth of 5G connectivity and sustainability concerns.

And according to a 2022 industry survey by UAV mapping and photo documentation software company DroneDeploy, 69 percent of construction respondents said they planned to expand their use of on-site drones.

Clearly, drones in construction are here to stay. And that’s because they’ve become useful tools for a range of construction applications.

What Are Drones Used for in Construction?

Construction firms have discovered a wide range of uses for UAVs in just a short time. Here are some of the most common:

Preconstruction Planning and Surveying

Surveying drones equipped with HD cameras and light detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensors are now used to capture detailed imagery from above and generate ultra-precise 3D models, site maps, plans, and topographical analysis far more accurately than consumer-grade tools (such as Google Maps).

Companies can then incorporate these highly detailed 2D and 3D images into building information modeling (BIM) software.

Because they are traditionally expensive and time-consuming to create, topographic maps aren’t always updated before the start of a job – which can lead to design errors not being caught until it’s far too late.

This aerial intelligence – which previously could only be performed using expensive helicopters – helps engineers and architects make better design and placement decisions.

Plus, the ease of putting a drone into the air means even smaller companies can now afford to perform preconstruction planning using such detailed aerial information. This could encourage a larger number of smaller companies to submit bids on projects whose surveying and mapping were previously cost-prohibitive.

Drone surveying can be particularly cost-effective for remote projects or large-distance projects, such as highways or rail corridors.


Drones can inspect areas of construction sites that aren’t easy or could be hazardous to reach. Inspection drones typically carry HD imaging systems and thermal cameras and are sometimes powered by AI systems to identify structural defects, ensure safety compliance, and monitor construction quality.

Inspection drones can also analyze the condition of buildings to inform maintenance planning, helping organizations improve safety and costs by tackling issues proactively instead of waiting until buildings are in worse shape and repairs are more costly.

Progress Reporting

Progress monitoring at job sites is also increasingly performed by UAVs. Companies can compare aerial images of construction progress with site drawings to ensure projects are going to plan and to spot mistakes faster before small issues become large problems.

Security and Safety

Construction, as a rule, is an inherently unsafe occupation, as illustrated by the industry’s sky-high fatality rates due to falls, slips, trips, transportation incidents, and exposure to dangerous substances or equipment.

Drones may help alleviate some of the risk by using thermal monitors to gauge the risk of equipment overheating – which can be time-consuming when done manually – or to more efficiently monitor the entire job site for potentially unsafe areas.

Job site security is another issue drones can help with. The frequency of equipment and material theft on construction sites numbered more than 11,000 in 2021, with many instances falling under insurance deductibles – leaving companies on the hook. Losing expensive equipment can be especially devastating for smaller companies with more limited budgets.

Equipment Tracking

Owned and rented construction equipment is easily misplaced on a job site, and using spreadsheets to keep track of everything can become unruly in a hurry. Drones can easily perform quick flyovers to spot equipment and determine if it’s in the right spot (or if it’s due to be returned to the rental shop).

Benefits of Drones in Construction

UAVs have already shown a capability to exponentially reduce costs and time spent on site mapping, surveying, and other preconstruction activities, helping to keep companies on schedule and on budget.

A joint venture by Balfour Beatty and Vinci (BBV) estimated in 2022 that it would save around £50,000 a year by using drones for its site surveys. By 2030, drones in the U.K. construction industry will likely provide £1.6B in cost savings.

Survey drones also help reduce costs by, in many cases, reducing the required size of the surveying team.

Inspection drones help improve project transparency and outcomes by identifying potential issues faster and ensuring companies stay on the right side of compliance regulations. And drones for safety and security help ensure safer, healthier job sites.

Potential Legal Issues

While drones can reduce the risk of litigation through improved safety, there are some legal issues construction firms should be aware of when it comes to using drones in construction.

Risk expert Tom Critchfield told Daily Commercial News that drone-related incidents due to malfunctions or negligent use is a potential legal risk companies must take seriously.

These incidents could include on-site safety issues or third-party damage due to a lack of operator training, privacy issues, or collisions with large objects like cranes, overhead lines, or even other buildings.

Not everyone knows, for example, that operating a drone falls under federal aviation laws. Drones can’t fly within restricted airspace, and users are considered pilots – meaning they must typically follow the same rules and regulations as those in manned aircraft.

In Canada, for example, pilots of drones weighing more than 250 grams must carry a valid drone pilot license and only fly marked and registered UAVs. And drone operators for commercial purposes must be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the U.S.

Drone operators of more than 250 grams (or any drone with a camera) in the U.K. must pass a competency test and register with the country’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).


Drones in construction are now a reality, with more and more firms using them for preconstruction mapping and surveying, maintenance inspections, safety and security, and other purposes.

Using UAVs in construction can save time and money, improve safety and security, keep projects from veering badly off-track, and even keep tabs on expensive construction equipment and materials.

But construction companies hoping to incorporate drones into their everyday workflows also need to be aware of the legal requirements surrounding the technology, including the need to be properly licensed in the U.S. and Canada.

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