Balfour Beatty and W Sussex trial drones for bridge inspections

West Sussex County Council are partnering with Balfour Beatty Living Places to trial the use of drones to inspect bridges across the county.


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

They say trials have so far been held at Swan Bridge in Pulborough and Adur Ferry Bridge in Shoreham-By-Sea resulting in around £8,000 of savings compared to traditional inspections.

Operated by one of Balfour Beatty’s six Civil Aviation Authority 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 it 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 space, without permission.

Steve Phillips, Contract Director for Balfour Beatty Living Places, said, “At Balfour Beatty we are continually assessing how we can utilise 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.

“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.”

West Sussex County Council’s Infrastructure Manager, Kieran Dodds, said: “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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