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Burns & McDonnell Tests Drone After Receiving Commercial Certification

Elle Moxley
A drone flies over the Burns & McDonnell construction site in south Kansas City. The engineering firm is one of the first to receive commercial drone certification from the FAA.

Engineering firm Burns & McDonnell has received Federal Aviation Administration approval to fly drones for commercial use.

The Kansas City-based company celebrated the new certification with a test flight Wednesday over the new campus being built in south Kansas City.

Steve Santovasi says using unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, to complete inspections presents a significant time savings over having to obtain permits to bring in heavy equipment.

“If you think about having to do an inspection of a structure that’s 250 feet tall and in the middle of a wetland, it could take months and months to get prepared just to do that inspection,” says Santovasi. “With UAV technology, we can just send the UAV up and in six or seven minutes, have everything we need.”

The cost savings are substantial, too. Santovasi says using a drone instead of a traditional aircraft is a fraction of the cost – often, only 25 percent.

A pilot's license is needed to fly a commercial drone in the United States. Santovasi says Burns & McDonnell already employs a number of pilots, though they’re looking to have pilots in each region so they don’t have to send a team each time a drone is needed.

Burns & McDonnell is also certified to fly drones in Canadian airspace, where they’ve been used to measure rugged terrain where transmission lines are being built.

Elle Moxley is a reporter for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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