Xcel Energy, a leader in energy infrastructure inspection technology, is set to be the first USA-based company to operate unmanned aircraft out of line of sight of the pilot when it starts inspecting transmission lines near Denver, Colorado.
Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States announced that they have authorized the routine BVLOS unmanned flights, an unprecedented event in the utility industry, the company said.
Ben Fowke, chairman, president, and CEO, Xcel Energy said he is honored that Xcel are the first utility to conduct flights. The flights, he said, “will enhance grid reliability and safety for our employees and the public. With this groundbreaking decision, we are advancing the use of technology that improves our efficiency and provides cost savings for our customers.”
Commencing this summer, the company will routinely operate the BVLOS drone inspection flights about 20 miles north of Denver International Airport using a small unmanned helicopter weighing around 25 kilograms. To ensure safe operation in the inspection of transmission lines, Xcel Energy will use advanced command-and-control technology.
After conducting the flights in collaboration with several industry leaders, including Harris Corporation, the Northern Plains UAS testing facility, Phoenix Air UNMANNED LLC and Altus Intelligence, Xcel Energy will work with the FAA to expand off-line operations in other states.
Xcel Energy already signed a Safety Partnership Program (PSP) in January of this year with the FAA to operate drones for power line inspections within sight of operators, and has already been working with the FAA for several years to develop operational and safety requirements for the use of drones in the utility industry.
The work demonstrated how unmanned aerial vehicles can be used to improve productivity and safety as the technology enables inspections to be carried out without the use of trucks, helicopters or other public service equipment. Xcel Energy inspects more than 320,000 kilometers of electricity and natural gas infrastructure to ensure the safety and reliability of its energy systems.