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Technology Corner: Leveraging Drones to Drive EH&S Compliance

DATE: July 2021

APTIM continuously strives to provide our customers with state-of-the art solutions for their project specific needs. Our vision is to leverage advancements in technology to streamline work processes and improve our work products. One of several emerging technologies that APTIM currently uses on projects and client sites is unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as Drones.

Drones are operated by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) licensed pilots from the ground. Our FAA Part 107 certified Drone pilots have the flexibility to adopt and operate the latest airframes and sensors to ensure we have the right UAV tool to meet our clients’ specific needs. APTIM’s UAV data collection services are backed by market-leading processing and extraction technologies. These technologies allow for accurate data post-processing and calibration, effective classification and/or feature extraction, and deliverables in almost any format.

What are the benefits of Drones for Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S)? One of the greatest benefits of Drone usage is their ability to enhance site safety. APTIM’s FAA Part 107 certified pilots can fly Drones to access hazardous and confined spaces, conduct inspections of difficult to navigate, access, or unsafe locations, and assess environmental risks and conditions. Because Drones are equipped with sensors and cameras, project personnel can participate remotely via live video streaming. During COVID-19, Drones have been an invaluable tool when paired with the Microsoft® HoloLens2  to provide live stream video to remote team members unable to travel due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Other benefits of using Drones for EH&S compliance include increased project efficiencies, and the ability to identify problems early on in the project schedule.  

Drones can be used to identify problems quickly before a significant impact to cost, schedule, or both occur. The aerial and video stream make it easy to see existing hazards from a different angle or perspective that may be missed by an engineer or scientist from the ground.

What regulatory limitations impact the use of Drones for EH&S? Commercial Drones are regulated in 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 107. Regulatory limitations for commercial Drone use include operating in controlled airspace, night operations, and flights over people can be time consuming to navigate. Planning and lead time are essential to the successful implementation of Drones on projects as it can take up to 90 days to obtain Part 107 waivers.

How can Drones be used for EH&S? Drones have proven to have several useful applications to support clients on EH&S projects.  APTIM has used Drones on Phase I environmental site assessments (ESAs) to survey property line to property line. The Drones can cover a vast amount of area quickly and assist field personnel to ensure all potential environmental risks are documented safely and efficiently.

APTIM uses Drones to support our solid waste field teams during solid waste assessments. The Drones fly over the solid waste pile following a grid pattern to record video and live stream back to a customer’s office. The recorded videos are shared with others as part of visual training or research.

Other applications include stormwater compliance along linear and traditional sites, surveying and monitoring construction sites, emergency response and disaster relief, pipeline inspections, and more.

APTIM has trained licensed pilots across the country. APTIM is poised and ready to provide our clients with new ways of capturing information in the field that improves safety, increased data quality and is more cost effective.