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Airport Improvement Highlights Innovative Use of Drones for BVU Siting Study

Oculus VR study at Boulder City Airport
Still image from virtual reality model of airport (constructed based on drone-captured imagery)

Airport Improvement magazine featured Kimley-Horn’s work on a technology-enhanced siting study for the Boulder City Municipal Airport (BVU) near Las Vegas, Nevada. The article, titled “Drones and Virtual Reality Speed Control Tower Siting at Boulder City Municipal,” discusses BVU’s goal to conduct a siting study and determine the optimal height and location for an air traffic control tower.

As project engineering consultant, Kimley-Horn strategically integrated drones into the siting study process in collaboration with BVU, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and other project partners. Typically, airports use cranes for siting studies, but the innovative use of drones enhanced efficiency for the project at a time when other FAA tower siting studies were delayed. Heath Hildebrandt, PE, a Kimley-Horn aviation practice lead who has worked on numerous BVU projects, also estimated that the use of drones reduced the siting study budget by half when compared to traditional methods.

The aerial imagery captured by the drones—including diverse angles and sunlight conditions throughout daytime hours—was later used to construct 3D airport models, allowing stakeholders to explore the site through virtual reality and determine the best location for the air traffic control tower. After the site location and tower height were approved by the FAA in 2022, the air traffic control tower project is continuing to move forward, promoting a future of enhanced safety and coordination for passengers flying to and from the thriving Las Vegas region.

About the Expert

Heath Hildebrandt, PE

Heath Hildebrandt, PE

With 24 years of experience, Heath has considerable knowledge in designing and constructing multidisciplinary airport projects. He leverages extensive experience with the FAA grant process, runway design, taxiway design, apron construction, pavement management, relocations, planning, and rehabilitation projects to deliver top-notch, innovative service to clients. Heath has been a project manager for numerous Airport Improvement Program-funded projects—which require knowledge of airspace, airport operations, and FAA Advisory Circulars as well as complex municipal, state, and federal agency coordination. As a construction manager for numerous airfield construction projects, Heath also has experience observing construction activities, processing contractor progress payments, coordinating and documenting quality assurance/quality control testing, and leading weekly progress meetings.


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