The Pilot’s Perspective – Landfill Drone Benefits and Uses

July 16, 2019

Our featured pilots are Melissa Russo and Christopher Woloszyn, part of SCS Engineers’  landfill drone program and SCS RMC®. Melissa and Chris, both FAA-certified pilots take us on a flight and answer FAQs about the technology and how it’s used on landfills. Let’s fly with Melissa!


Landfill Drone FAQs

1.   How does aerial or drone mapping save landfill managers’ time and money?

There is no need to set up a dedicated base station and have a survey walk in a predetermined pattern; just connect to overhead GPS satellites and start your fight.
The flight is quicker than survey field operations, so the time on site is reduced.

The post-processing of the data is typically completed by a 3rd party cloud software, allowing an even further reduction in processing time.

2.  How comprehensive is the site information? What is typically gathered, or what do you look for?

Visual indications of erosion, standing water, rutting, damaged above-grade piping or wells, exterior defects on structures, damaged fencing. It’s especially helpful in hard to reach areas.

Escaping gases are detected using special equipment, a methane sensor attached to a drone. Using this technology can quickly identify issues with the gas collection system and help isolate cover issues.

Heat maps are infrared mapping we use to identify areas with minimal cover, damage or minimal flare insulation, overheating at blower stations, and other related items. Having the ability to have a visual on what is invisible to the naked eye is a huge benefit for identifying and diagnosing potential problems.

3.  What else are you capable of gathering that is beneficial to landfill managers?

3D modeling of a structure, flare station, or landfill can assist with construction design, contractor interaction at meetings, our client presentations, and provides a more comprehensive knowledge base of what exists at a site.

For example, creating a 3D map of a leachate tank field can be used to A) visually identify problem areas at a tank, B) take measurements to see if field equipment will fit and how best to maneuver, C) direct the contractor about how to best navigate the site while sitting in a meeting, and D) full data on before/after construction.

Construction Quality Assurance – CQA, we visualize and identify problem areas with a contractor’s work. This could include slope measurements, depth checks, construction timeline photography, and so on.

Safety Risks Minimized – using drones reduces manpower requirements in treacherous terrain or typically inaccessible locations. From swampy areas to unstable caps to tops of tanks to the interior of a flare stack; all these locations are now accessible for a full visual inspection.

Additional equipment rental is now a thing of the past. Need a visual on a roofline or tank hatch? Inspect it from the ground – no more man lifts, scaffolding, harnessed ladder climbing – these new inspection methods really take people out of harm’s way.

4.  How much time does a drone save over the time it takes to do ground inspections?

Depending on the terrain and acreage, we save landfill operators hours or even days. Large swaths of land can be covered by a drone in mere minutes.

After some post-processing, survey-quality data can be pulled from a drone flight and put in use by SCS and our client within a day.

Even large scale projects are completed and reviewed within the week.

5.  Is there any benefit of a human inspection over a flyover?

There are certain benefits for having boots on the ground, though not all are related to obtaining a survey. Humans use their senses to identify problems not seen from the air – boots can sense soft spots under a cap, noses can pick up odors that shouldn’t be there, ears can hear a leaking wellhead, eyes close to the ground can notice animal burrows or mislabeled gas system components.

These minor nuances give the human aspect a leg up over an aerial inspection. Robotics are highly capable and efficient but don’t provide every single bit of feedback that a human could. That’s why our Field Services technicians use both; it’s up to our client to decide.

6.  What technologies do you couple with the drone?

We typically incorporate our flight 3D model to print models for clients. Whether the model is of a flare station or a topographic model, the flyover can create useful tools for analyzing data in both virtual space and in reality.

Similarly, the topo can be imported to CAD for use in designs – for instance, determining remaining airspace and calculating stockpile volumes.

SCS has begun using augmented reality with Microsoft’s HoloLens technology. The models produced by DroneDeploy or Pix4D can be input into the HoloLens, allowing the user to “walk” through their property and manipulate the 3D model in front of them, seeing real-time data and activity from their RMC system and the as-built status at the time of the 3D model.

4D models enable operators to view conditions over time, providing the ability to detect and measure changes and insight into the benefits of critical infrastructure such as earthworks and systems.

Theoretically, one could add costs as a 5th dimension to visualize the resources, time and money needed to move solid materials. Our clients’ can determine their needs and expand capabilities as they determine those that are the most beneficial.

7.  Based on your work with clients to date, describe for us one of the most beneficial applications of the technology.

3D imaging and mapping of a flare station/piping/tanks for use in designing a replacement/supplemental flare station adjacent to the existing one.

We could design and build everything faster and more efficiently, and we saved our client money and time. In landfill operations that’s real value. The entire process was safer for the construction crew and the operations team.

It was interesting, fun, and exciting to boot.

8.  How did you become interested in becoming a pilot? Was the certification process difficult?

A colleague mentioned that SCS was expanding our pilot program nationwide and wanted a new pilot in the mid-Atlantic region; one who already knows landfill operations and design. My colleague was diving heavily into 3D modeling and 3D printing, so I thought it beneficial for me to study and take the pilot’s exam since we work on project teams together.

The certification process wasn’t prohibitively difficult, and frankly, navigating the requirements of the FAA was probably the most tedious task of the process. I’m always finding and exchanging info with the other pilots, our clients, designers, construction, and field staff. Plus, I’ll renew my certification every 2 years to keep up to date with the most recent rules, regulations, and industry trends.

Thanks, Chris!


Find more information on our website, including case studies, videos, upcoming events, and more.

Contact SCS at 1-800-767-4727


Posted by Diane Samuels at 6:00 am