Dozens of State DOTs Are Now Using or Testing Aerial Drones

A drone flies over a river in Missouri, during 2017.

A drone flies over a river in Missouri, during 2017. shutterstock


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A new survey finds that state transportation departments are using unmanned aircraft for gathering images of construction sites, surveying, bridge inspections and other tasks.

Nearly three dozen state departments of transportation around the U.S. are now regularly using, or experimenting with aerial drones for tasks such as surveying, bridge inspections and emergency response.

That's according to the results of a March survey by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials that the group publicized on Tuesday.

Of 44 state DOTs that responded, 35 said they are using drones. Twenty of the DOTs said they've incorporated them into daily operations and 15 said they are researching and testing how they can be used.

"Drones are being used to significantly cut the time it takes to gather data, which is leading to major time and cost savings," AASHTO executive director Bud Wright said in a statement.

Other examples of how DOTs are using drones include: taking photos and video of highway construction projects, pavement and light pole inspections, and traffic control and monitoring.

Basil Yap, manager of the North Carolina transportation department's unmanned aerial system program, said other local government agencies have approached the department to ask for training.

He also noted a partnership with community colleges to come up with a curriculum for drone pilots.

State DOTs using drones either follow what's known as the Federal Aviation Administration's Part 107 rule, or they receive a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization from the FAA to fly the aircraft.

Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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