FAA, Xcel Energy Partner to Advance UAS for Utility Inspections


In an effort to research the safe operation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for inspecting critical infrastructure, Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy is partnering with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The agreement involves using UAS to inspect more than 20,000 miles of Xcel Energy transmission lines across 10 states, encompassing diverse climates, conditions and geographies.

Among the goals of the new “Partnership for Safety Plan” is to shape future FAA policies for safe and routine drone-based electric grid inspections taking place beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS). The FAA and Xcel Energy will plan and develop safety measures and evaluate outcomes.

“We’re proud to partner with the FAA to explore ways unmanned aircraft systems can enhance public safety while protecting the national grid and gas pipelines,” comments Kent Larson, Xcel Energy’s executive vice president and group president of operations. “Drone technology is already giving us better inspection data to efficiently and effectively monitor our systems – ensuring employee safety and improving reliability to better serve customers.”

Xcel Energy has previously worked with the FAA to advance UAS guidelines for the energy sector. During the past three years, Xcel Energy has conducted more than a dozen outdoor missions using drone – including a BVLOS flight in 2016.

Last year, Xcel Energy began a yearlong research project with the state of North Dakota, the University of North Dakota and other partners to use unmanned aircraft to assess damage after severe weather events. The company is sharing its data with the FAA and the Edison Electric Institute, an association that represents all U.S. investor-owned electric companies.

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