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State DOTs Deploy Drones to Save Lives, Time and Money
April 3, 2018

A survey by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), representing State Departments of Transportation in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, finds that 35 of 44 responding state departments of transportation (80 percent) are using unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, for a wide range of purposes.

The March 2018 survey finds that 20 state DOTs have incorporated drones into their daily operations. Another 15 state DOTs are in the research phase – testing drones to determine how they can be utilized. All state DOTs deploying drones follow FAA’s Part 107 Rule or the state DOT has received a public Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) from the FAA to conduct drone operations.

“This is another example of how state DOTs are advancing innovation to improve safety and productivity for the traveling public,” said Bud Wright AASHTO executive director. “Drones are being used to significantly cut the time it takes to gather data, which is leading to major time and cost savings.”

All 20 of the state DOTs operating drones on a daily basis, are deploying them to gather photos and videos of highway construction projects. In addition to photography, 14 states also reported using them for surveying, 12 for public education and outreach, 10 for bridge inspections, eight for emergency response, six for pavement inspections, five for scientific research, two for daily traffic control and monitoring and one state DOT was using drones to conduct high-mast light pole inspections.

The AASHTO March 2018 survey found that 20 state DOTs – Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia – are all using drones in their daily operations.

Another 15 state DOTs – Alabama, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia – are all researching how best to utilize drone technology. Nine states responding to the survey reported they are not deploying drones for research purposes or daily operations.

Of the 35 states deploying drones, 23 have established comprehensive drone polices that cover the acquisition, operation, airspace restrictions and the training and permitting of drones and drone pilots. 27 of the state DOTs reporting said they were adding full time staff to operate and maintain their drone fleets.

Some experts predict that as more public and private organizations begin to deploy drones the demand for drone pilots and other related expertise will grow—making it more difficult for state DOTS to attract qualified personnel.

Watch the AASHTO Transportation TV Special ReportBuilding Highways in the Sky: State DOTs Leading the Evolution of Drones.

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