By Kelsey Husnick
Getting a bird’s-eye view of a building under construction used to require a crane or lift and somebody willing to go along for the ride.
For Danis Building Construction, now it requires only a drone.
The Dublin-based construction company has been using its so-called unmanned aircraft system since April, only the second company of its kind to be approved to use a drone.
The Federal Aviation Administration has issued 740 permits for drone use since September, with more than 50 of those listing construction services as one of their operating purposes. The first construction company approved for drone use was based in Houston.
“We intend to use the drone to provide better service to our clients in a more efficient manner,” said Dustin Rohrbach, vice president of Danis’ Columbus office, in a statement. “It will also help us to get a view of jobsites that we may not have had access to before, whether it’s looking at the structure of a multi-story building before demolition, or inspecting a wetlands area in order to determine it’s viability for a project.”
The drone also reduces safety risks on job sites by examining areas that would have required sending people on cranes, scaffolding or lifts.
Rob Mauro has been coordinating the company’s drone operations and is the only Danis employee certified to fly the drone at this time. That’s because, at the moment, the FAA says that only licensed commercial pilots can fly a drone. Mauro is a former Marine helicopter pilot.
He says it’s currently being put to use about once a week.
“I think the long-term plan is to train internally and teach other people how to operate them,” he said, but the FAA needs to issue its final rules on drone use and allow for that before action can be taken.
Danis plans to increase its drone fleet and use the technology more frequently.
“We’ve used it on a number of projects, but essentially the owner is using video and pictures from the UAS as a communication tool with internal staff,” Mauro said.
Images show progress on construction projects. For example, a hospital Danis is currently working with has such images displayed throughout the building, and Mauro said it’s a nice way to show clients the work being done for them.
This week, Danis will start using the drone to survey areas and buildings to create accurate, digital models. It’s technology that was already available on a small scale, but Mauro said the drone will allow even five-story buildings to be photographed and turned into 3-D replicas.
The drone does have more weather limitations than a normal aircraft would have. It can’t fly in wind speeds higher than 20 mph, for example, or in rain or freezing conditions.
Planning and coordination also play a big role in an unmanned flight, Mauro said. The FAA places regulations on where drones can fly, so “any time we’re within 5 miles of an airport or a heliport, we have to seek approval.”
Richard Honneywell, executive director of the Ohio/Indiana UAS Center and Test Complex, said he knew of about a half dozen other companies that had obtained unmanned aircraft permits in Ohio. While he hasn’t dealt directly with construction companies, he said the drones can be useful when surveying areas and tracking the progress of projects, but they’re not as practical around metro areas because of the strict FAA regulations.
The most common use for drones, especially in Ohio, is in agriculture.