Beca is using cutting-edge drone technology to facilitate safer, more efficient and less expensive inspections of lighting towers at New Zealand’s Wellington International Airport.

In partnership with airport management, our structural team has conducted regular visual inspections of Wellington Airport’s 30-metre-high airside lighting towers for more than 15 years.

But inspections can be expensive and limiting – typically, they can only be carried out when gates are clear of parked aircraft, and involve staff being suspended up to 30 metres into the air. The crane required for these inspections needs to be booked in advance and its use is often weather dependent, adding additional costs.

Having successfully used drones on other Beca projects, Associate Surveyor Andrew Barbour and Structural Technical Director Steve Kemp approached the client about their use at the airport.

“Drone technology is the perfect alternative to in-person inspections. Our engineers’ feet are firmly on the ground the entire time, which contributes greatly to staff safety and the cost effectiveness of this essential maintenance task,” says Andrew.

Shane Broderson, Facilities Manager at Wellington Airport, says, “The drones have been a cost effective and efficient exercise in comparison to the old way of inspecting our lighting towers. The information and report provided by Beca is clear and concise, and allows us to effectively maintain the structural integrity of each tower”.

In close collaboration with drone operator Elevo and the airport, Beca engineers worked to identify the best time to deploy the drone at each tower, to minimise disruptions to regular operations (during the night when the runway is closed).

Elevo also undertook a series of night flights prior to our work at the airport, to test the drone’s camera settings and lighting. This was an important ‘proof of concept’ for our structural team, given the limited window of time available to carry out these inspections.

Once all these ingredients were in place, the first successful inspection of 12 lighting towers was carried out over three nights using a single DJI Matrice 210 drone. Thanks to the support and cooperation of WIAL management, we’ve found an innovative way to make the inspection of tall lighting structures better.


Image: Joel Elevo (Elevo Commercial Drone Services) preparing DJI Matrice 210 drone for night time inspections


Image: DJI Matrice 210 drone at work at Wellington International Airport

See also October 2019