OUTER BANKS, N.C. (WAVY) – The N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) says they are using drones now to inspect bridges and roadways.

Officials say the Marc Basnight Bridge over Oregon Inlet became the first bridge in the state inspected using one as part of the regular biennial inspection process.

Inspection crews monitored live high-definition video feeds from the drone as it was flown around the bridge’s 10 largest columns, looking for any potential defects that would require further action. 

(Courtesy: NCDOT)

NCDOT says they will use drones to conduct bridge inspections faster, saving money and reducing the need for lane closures but they will not replace a traditional visual inspection — in most instances.

They will be used to supplement traditional inspections since they can be used to inspect areas of the bridge that are difficult to reach during traditional inspections. 

The department is allowed to operate drones beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) when inspecting bridges thanks to a waiver granted to NCDOT in 2020 by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The waiver allows the operator to fly the drone around pillars, between girders, and inside columns.

The drone used to inspect the Marc Basnight Bridge, 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 a crash. 

Additionally, NCDOT officials say routine inspection of the bridge is set to begin on March 1 through March 18.

(Courtesy: NCDOT)

During the process, one lane of the bridge will be closed during daylight hours Monday through Friday in order to position crews and equipment.

NCDOT says the closures will be no longer than 1.5 miles long, and flaggers will alternate traffic direction during the closure. One lane of the bridge will remain open at all times.

The condition inspection is routine and federally mandated every two years. This is the first inspection since the bridge opened to traffic in February 2019.