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Taking stock in West Virginia: UAVs save WVDOT time and money

Image: Skyward/WVDOT

Image: Skyward/WVDOT

The West Virginia Department of Transportation (WVDOT) turned to UAVs to save time and money. Incorporating drones has saved WVDOT more than $340,000 in a single month.

In 2017, WVDOT began formally looking into launching a drone program. WVDOT concluded that drones could be ideal for stockpile surveys — using them had the potential to speed up the process, reduce risk, and increase accuracy.

Jesse Bennett, statewide survey unit leader at WVDOT, flew several test missions to validate the use case. He quickly realized drones had huge potential to transform this time-consuming and risky task.

The agency began with a team of nine Federal Aviation Administration-certified drone pilots and 12 drones. WVDOT also began using Skyward’s Drone Management Platform to manage their flights, pilots and equipment. Skyward offered a single, digital platform to coordinate complex missions and obtain airspace permissions.

“I saw the need for something like Skyward from the very beginning, when I was the first and only pilot,” Bennett said. “I was manually making entries in flight logs and maintenance logs, and I was using about seven or eight different apps and websites just to plan and fly a mission.”

Using Skyward as a single place to keep track of every aspect of the drone program enabled Bennett to quickly resolve an investigation after someone mistakenly assumed he didn’t have authorization to fly in an area and reported him to the FAA.The software helped him demonstrate that crews were obeying FAA regulations and WVDOT’s own rules.

Starting in spring 2019, WVDOT began deploying drone crews for stockpile inspections at scale. WVDOT has 177 sites across the state that contain stockpiled materials. Each year, the stockpiles must be physically surveyed to calculate the volume of material. From 42 surveyors laboring for 15 workdays, the same workload took seven UAS pilots only nine workdays to complete the project.

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