Drones Cleared for Takeoff

In 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved new rules allowing companies in the electric power sector and other sectors to fly drones weighing no more than 55 pounds below 400 feet without requiring a waiver from the agency. With millions of miles of transmission and distribution lines across the United States that must be monitored by air, the ability to use drones for aerial inspections of lines, along with power generation assets, is a more efficient, safe and cost-effective alternative to traditional methods.

The use of drone technology is beneficial for a variety of inspection applications across our generation, transmission and distribution system.

The use of drone technology is beneficial for a variety of inspection applications across our generation, transmission and distribution system. Our generation business unit has used the technology for boiler furnace and burner inspections that otherwise would require significant outage time, affecting customers. It also would have required building complex and expensive scaffolding to gain access to the equipment for inspection – an activity that is time-consuming and introduces safety risks. Using drone technology has proven to be more cost-effective and safer for our employees and produces high-quality results. Saving time and money on inspections by using drones can free up resources for higher-priority work. Drones also provide the ability to digitally archive inspection videos for improved planning, knowledge-transfer and recordkeeping.

Additional opportunities to use drone technology are being explored within each business unit, such as using drones to assess damage faster after an outage, along with an effort to engage in the development of legislation and regulations associated with it. We are also exploring business case opportunities for owning and operating our own drone technology.

AEP is participating in an initiative with the Edison Electric Institute to demonstrate and develop the use of drones beyond visual line of sight. We are also continuing to work with the Electric Power Research Institute on the study of transmission line inspection and maintenance using drone technology.