Weekly Columns

Arkansas businesses are realizing the benefits of using drones and implementing this advanced technology in their operations. It’s improving efficiency and safety for us all and I’m championing efforts to build on this momentum. 

The agricultural industry is also expanding its use of this innovative technology. I’ve seen firsthand how students at Arkansas State University are using drones to study water use in fields and weed suppression. The University of Arkansas-Monticello College of Forestry, Agriculture and Natural Resources is using a drone for forestry studies. 

Entergy Arkansas is strengthening the electrical grid with its three-person drone team that works to detect problems with the hundreds of miles of power lines to prevent issues that could cause outages. Drones allow the company to inspect lines at hard-to-reach locations in a fraction of the time and for a much lower cost. 

Since May 2021, the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) has embraced the use of drones to augment human inspectors and spot flaws and structural issues on bridges, railways and other infrastructure projects. After the shutdown of the I-40 bridge connecting Arkansas to Tennessee last year, ARDOT increased its drone capabilities and now it boasts one of the most expansive programs in the country. 

Congress is recognizing the unique opportunities available with this technology and supporting this new approach to empower more communities to use this innovative tool to improve safety and save taxpayer dollars. 

I recently helped introduce the Drone Infrastructure Inspection Grant (DIIG) Act. This bipartisan legislation supports community investments in American-made drones and the next generation workforce to operate these tools. 

This legislation will help local governments save money. According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, it costs $4,600 to conduct a manual inspection on each bridge. In comparison, using a drone drastically cuts down on the cost and saves more than $3,000 per bridge. The implementation of drone inspections for bridges would save roughly $783 million nationwide.

In addition to saving money, we know using a drone also saves time. While it takes about eight hours to conduct a manual bridge inspection, a drone inspection on the same infrastructure takes about one hour. 

It’s no surprise this legislation is gaining backing from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, industry leaders and local governments across the country. This is a positive step forward in creating a better inspection process and training drone pilots.  

As we continue to work on issues facing our country, I’m committed to giving our state and local governments the resources they need to maintain safe and reliable roads, bridges, dams and other critical infrastructure.  

In Arkansas, we’re investing in modernizing our capabilities and developing a workforce to operate these cutting-edge tools. In recent days, the Arkansas and Oklahoma Governors launched a partnership to leverage the region as the national hub for advanced mobility which includes drones and the development of a workforce to pilot them.

Using this advanced technology will help ensure our infrastructure, electrical grid and agricultural industry remain strong.