Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) can provide different work for tower climbers. UAS inspections can save workers a climb and free them up for other tasks, said experts on-hand for a UAS demonstration Tuesday, organized by the National Tower Erectors Association. Four NATE member companies flew their UAS close to a 198-ft. Crown Castle tower in Gainesville, VA, just outside of the D.C. restricted airspace.
Using UAS for tower inspections can mean one-third fewer climbs need to be performed, Jim Goldwater, NATE Director of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs, told Inside Towers. “Our job is to make sure our people get home safe,” said NATE Chairman Jim Tracy to the assembled crowd of 55-plus people. Using UAS or drones, means less risk for climbers from working at elevation, he said.
The four companies that flew drone aircraft were: ETAK Systems, Talon Aerolytics, Ehresmann Engineering, and B+T Group. All contract with Crown Castle for tower work. In addition to industry workers, officials from the FCC, FAA, OSHA and SBA attended the event.
NATE Executive Director Todd Schlekeway, said the event was a great opportunity to show regulators, and industry that communications towers are tailor-made for UAS. He told Inside Towers during an interview, drones are being used now for tower inspections, however: “I think we’re just scratching the surface.” As the regulatory environment improves, as more of the carriers and owners, feel more comfortable using this technology” on their assets, “that’s very valuable real estate. We think, conservatively you can reduce a third of the climbs by using this technology.” He was quick to add however, “it’s not a replacement for the workforce.”
NATE asked Crown Castle to find a tower site with parking, near D.C. but not in its restricted airspace. As trucks rolled by, Schlekeway said: “This is what tower crews do every day. Not every tower is in a rural area. They navigate traffic getting to and from the site.” Feedback from regulators at the event was positive. “They appreciated the opportunity to see technology demonstrated in real-time from a site.” It’s not like watching a video of drone footage, or reading a story, he emphasized.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief
October 10, 2018