Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) also known as drones have captured everyone’s attention. They have been spotted virtually everywhere in recent months. Amazon.com wants to use drones to deliver packages, realtors want to use them to shoot property photos and numerous other industries are considering drone applications.

Even the Professional Retail Store Maintenance Association (PRSM), the authority on retail, multi-site facilities management (FM), is conducting a special educational sessions on using drones in retail facility maintenance.  The high-flying session will take place during PRSM’s mid-year conference being held this week at the Westin Kierland, Scottsdale.

“Drones have earned a bad reputation, due to highly publicized incidents involving commercial aircraft or flying in restricted air space,” explains Josh Pola, COO of Springwise Facility Management, who is promoting drone usage during the PRSM conference.

“However, drones have the ability to save retail facility professionals a lot of time and thousands of dollars,” he continues.  “They can perform rooftop aerial surveys of large retail buildings to detect roof leaks before they can damage the interior of a retail store or distribution center.  And, they are also highly effective in performing aerial property surveys.”

“Drones can provide a facility manager very affordable views of a building or property that were either very expensive to obtain using airplanes or helicopters, or in most cases impossible to get due to the location of the building. In some locations, you could use a plane or chopper to do what a drone can do. However, it would cost thousands of dollars, compared to a few hundred using a drone,” Pola explains.

Equipped with an infrared camera, a drone can provide thermography images facility managers can use to detect potential or existing roof leaks. All the time avoiding the danger and expense of climbing onto the roof and spending hours to complete the same work. “You can get a much clearer view of the roof, HVAC units and other systems and never get off the ground.”

“In environmentally sensitive areas, they (drones) can perform aerial property surveys that can be used to complete building plans without stepping foot into the area,” Pola continues.  “The drone technology isn’t new. We’re simply using it to accomplish tasks much more efficiently and safely.”

Due to current FAA regulations, drones can only be used for personal use without an FAA exemption.  Even with an exemption, they are still restricted to altitudes of less than 400 feet and cannot be used in any restricted airspace near airports, or in many public areas.  “At this time, drone usage by retailers is very limited to ensure they do not endanger the public in any way,” Pola explains.

“However, recently the FAA has begun developing new regulations to allow expanded use of drones in a commercial setting by a licensed pilot.  In the meantime, the exemption is the only way a drone can be used commercially”

Pola explains that Springwise has filed for an FAA commercial exemption, has licensed commercial drone pilots on staff, and has conducted test flights around their own buildings to demonstrate how drones can enhance safety, save time and money. “Springwise prides itself in being on the leading edge in technology and providing  facility managers the tools they need to get the job done. “In facility maintenance the goal is to always complete a task safely in the most efficient manner at the lowest possible cost providing the best data or results,” Pola continues.  “Drones can achieve all of these goals under the right circumstances.”

While no retailers are using drones at this time, Pola sees a lot of opportunity, especially with big box, multi-site retailers like Walmart, Target, Costco, Sears, Lowes and others, as well as with distribution centers and in industrial applications. “Facility managers at these sites are responsible for acres of rooftops, and using drones could save thousands of dollars in managing their facilities,” he concludes.

Being a drone pilot is not a skill normally required for most jobs. However, the next generation facility professional might need to add it to their resume, if they want to keep up with the high-flying demands of multi-site, retail facility maintenance.