October 16, 2021
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The Marc Basnight Bridge over Oregon Inlet became the first bridge in the state inspected via drone by North Carolina Department of Transportation crews.

[Above photo by NCDOT.]

The inspection – conducted during the week of February 22 – entailed operators monitoring live high-definition drone video feeds as inspected the bridge’s 10 largest columns, looking for any potential defects that would require further action.

Photo by the NCDOT

A waiver granted to the agency in 2020 by the Federal Aviation Administration allows NCDOT to operate drones beyond visual line of sight when inspecting bridges – letting the operator fly the drone around pillars, between girders, and even inside columns.

The agency noted in a statement that using drones to conduct bridge inspections speeds up the process saves money, and reduces the need for lane closures. While drones will not replace a traditional visual inspection in most instances, they “supplement” traditional inspections with the ability to inspect areas of the bridge that are difficult to reach during a traditional visual inspection.

The North Carolina DOT added that the drone used in this particular inspection, a Skydio 2, is equipped with detect-and-avoid technology that allows it to operate within a foot of the bridge structure without risk of crash.

 

editor@aashto.org

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