- Federal aviation officials have authorized San Diego Gas & Electric to begin a test program using small drones to survey transmission lines. The authorization represents the first time the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved the use of drones for a utility.
- The test area is 2.5-miles long and a half mile wide, in a remote area away from residences and businesses. The test involves two 16-inch diameter drones that cost about $6,000 combined, each weighing less than a pound.
SDG&E's program will use unmanned aircrafts to survey a tiny fraction of its transmission lines. If it is successful and eventually granted FAA authority, the utility could expand drone usage to more of its 26,000 miles of lines. Some of the lines are remote, and drones cost a fraction of helicopter leasing costs, which can be about $2,000/hour, according to Energy Central.
It is a test removed from real world utility complications, in an area of eastern San Diego County that has no residences or businesses. The drones will each carry a camera that can send live images back to the utility, allowing it to better assess its system.
The FAA issued SDG&E a Special Airworthiness Certificate to move ahead with its program. Over at Forbes, the magazine takes a closer look at how companies are beginning to use drones in different applications and noted that since 2005 FAA officials have issued just under 100 certificates for 20 different types of use.