NCDOT Awarded Waiver Opens Path for Construction Drone Inspections

The North Carolina Department of Transportation was recently awarded a waiver, enabling pilots to fly drones beyond their visual line of sight for inspecting construction projects.

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North Carolina transportation engineers will soon be able to inspect and monitor construction sites more safely using docked drones flown by pilots not located at the construction site.

That's because the N.C. Department of Transportation has received a first-of-its kind waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration to remotely launch and fly drones beyond the pilot's visual line of sight for construction project inspections.

Once NCDOT completes safety testing, it plans to place drones in docking stations at projects sites across the state and use the drones to remotely monitor and provide progress reports on transportation construction projects.

“This FAA waiver allows us to monitor project sites from anywhere, anytime, without the need for drone pilots to drive to sites and set up drone systems to capture and stream images," said Becca Gallas, director of the NCDOT's Division of Aviation, which manages the agency's use of drones. “That will save time and money and increase the safety of our employees by removing the risk associated with this fieldwork."

This latest FAA waiver follows a 2020 waiver that allowed NCDOT to become the nation's first state transportation agency to inspect bridges using drones beyond the visual line of sight of the pilot.

NCDOT Division of Aviation is piloting the use of docked drones with the private firm Skydio, one of 18 partners in its BEYOND program. NCDOT is one of eight U.S. teams testing and demonstrating how drones can be safely used for business and government purposes to inform the Federal Aviation Administration's regulation of these rapidly advancing technologies.

By harnessing the power of remote drone operations, the Division of Aviation remains steadfast in its mission to provide solutions for North Carolina's transportation and infrastructure needs.

“This is a new tool for our toolkit," said Gallas. "Our pilot program will serve as an example of the transformative potential of remote drone operations, ensuring the continued advancement of our state's infrastructure projects."

IRONPROS Perspective

One of the strongest use cases for construction drones is remote site monitoring. Traditionally, this is carried out on the ground by site inspectors. The process is tedious, time-consuming and hazardous (imagine walking through half-built structures and around heavy machinery).

Drones aren’t subject to the same limitations as professional site inspectors. They can easily navigate an open construction site and provide valuable perspectives of ongoing projects. Using drones to monitor construction sites is also safer than relying on inspectors, as drone pilots can fly quadcopters from a safe distance; pilots aren't exposed to the rugged and dangerous work environment. The risk of slipping on surfaces, falling objects and encountering fatal accidents is almost completely eliminated with drones.

The awarded waiver opens up the possibility for other organizations to implement drones for remote site monitoring in the future. Lastly, the waiver grants pilots the ability to fly drones beyond the visual line of sight, suggesting increased trust in drone technology and pilot training programs for drones by the FAA.

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