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Drone inspection critical in environmental emergency

A Flyability drone has conducted essential inspection after storms damaged a sewer pipe in Barcelona, causing raw sewage to spill into the Mediterranean Sea.

A wastewater interceptor pipe transporting waste from five municipalities to a treatment plant was damaged by heavy surf during storms.

The location of the pipe’s damage along the coast in Barcelona, Spain meant the raw sewage in the pipe was spilling into the Mediterranean Sea at a rate of 500 m3/s.

Only part of the break was visible to engineers and, without further inspection, they were unable to tell whether there was additional damage on either side of the break.

The speed and height of the flow of the sewage meant that human inspection or ground-based CCTV inspection was not viable.

Without timely inspection data, a bypass would have to be built unnecessarily long with the risk of connecting to the existing infrastructure too soon and causing a second break downstream.

As part of the emergency response, global water and waste management specialist Suez contacted Flind, a spinoff of the Spanish branch of the Suez Innovation and Operations Offices specialising in waste and water infrastructure and piloting the Flyability Elios collision tolerant inspection drones.

The drone entered the nearest undamaged manhole, where the Flind team navigated the pipe to provide data for the engineers.

The crash resistant Elios drone enters the sewer through a manhole.

Engineers identified an additional area of the pipe had been damages as the sand retreated underneath and was not visible from the surface, allowing them to efficiently plan and put in place an appropriate bypass.

Additionally, inspection requires one drone pilot and one safety officer, increasing safety and reducing the need for additional inspectors, particularly in bigger and deeper pipeline assets.

“Typically, the drone inspection is twice as efficient as human inspectors – and 40 per cent less expensive per meter of inspection,” said Flind Director of Client Services Péter Kövessi.

“Most of the sewer networks run 2, 3 or 4 m deep – but some larger pipes run much deeper, up to 55 m.

“In those conditions, the use of the Elios is 8–10 times more efficient and cost-effective than people. The deeper the pipe, the more efficient drone use is.”

For more information visit the Flyability website.

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