Our Air Operations team surveys the railway by helicopter and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or drones).
Inspecting the railway by air improves performance, reliability and safety â€“ with no disruption to train services or work site activities.
Flying drones on or around our infrastructure and people is a specialist and potentially high-risk activity. It is illegal to fly a drone on or near the railway. So we have a framework of approved suppliers and specially trained in-house pilots, who are the only people authorised to fly drones for Network Rail. All our authorised pilots and suppliers have gone through a robust safety and compliance process. They are the only certified drone operators permitted to provide services from or within 50m of our infrastructure.
What the team does
Operating our high-tech thermal and visual imaging equipment, this forward-thinking, high-flying team surveys the railway by air. This is effective â€“ our equipment identifies the smallest of faults, and our aircraft cover wide areas fast â€“ and a safe option, reducing the need to send people trackside to inspect railway equipment.
The team also works with internal customers across our routes to develop new aerial inspection techniques, using the latest technology to meet specific briefs.
Itâ€™s a critical part of keeping the railway running smoothly and safely, as youâ€™ll see on this page. In just one example, in 2014, the air ops team picked up a fault on the East Coast Mainline that could have brought down the wires on all four rails, which would have caused massive disruption.