Balfour Beatty and West Sussex CC trial drone technology for bridge inspections

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Balfour Beatty’s Living Places division, in partnership with its client West Sussex County Council (WSCC), has begun trialing the use of drones to inspect bridges across the county.

The Balfour Beatty team has so far conducted trials at Swan Bridge in Pulborough and Adur Ferry Bridge in Shoreham-By-Sea, resulting in circa £8,000 (US$10,300) of savings compared to traditional inspections.

Routine inspections are carried out on all bridges every two years to ensure they are safe for public use. Traditionally, inspection work requires extensive traffic management to allow inspectors to safely carry out works at height and over water, causing disruption to the public and road users. The use of drones to review the condition of a bridge reduces potential health and safety risks, as well as dramatically reducing costs, disruption and inconvenience to members of the public by removing the need for traffic management.

Operated by one of Balfour Beatty’s six UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) licensed drone pilots, each drone is fitted with recording equipment to allow the workforce on the ground to review the condition of the bridge once filming is completed. To make sure the drone is operated safely, a second camera is used to film the drone in action, with an assistant reviewing the safety parameters around the drone in real time. The drones are also fitted with protective floats to enable them to safely land on water if required, as well as being fitted with a GPS system to prevent them flying into ‘no fly zones’, such as airport airspace, without permission.

“We are continually assessing how we can utilize technology, such as the use of drones, to drive efficiencies in project delivery and improved health and safety across all aspects of highways construction, maintenance and operation,” explained Steve Phillips, contract director for Balfour Beatty Living Places.

“Using drones in our highways inspection work allows us to safely assess the work required, while dramatically reducing any potential hazards faced by our workforce who would traditionally carry out work such as bridge inspections at height. It’s a great example of how modern technology can be successfully used by industry.”

WSCC’s infrastructure manager, Kieran Dodds, added, “The use of drones enables us to obtain the necessary information to determine our highway structures are safe for use, while reducing the risk to our inspectors who conventionally would have to use access equipment when working at height.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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