On Oct. 19, Eric Bitzko, PEC equipment maintenance supervisor, became our first certified small unmanned aircraft pilot, informally launching an exciting unmanned aircraft system (UAS) program.
UAS will soon be used in some areas to image the equipment along our utility rights of way, scanning for places in need of vegetation maintenance to ensure the delivery of reliable, safe electricity.
“Inspecting lines by air is faster, cheaper and less intrusive than using boots on the ground,” Bitzko said. “Instead of PEC crews and contractors knocking on doors and entering backyards one by one, we can fly our UAS along our easements to identify areas that need tree trimming.”
For now, the aircraft will only be used to inspect areas that are costly to inspect on foot, including suburban neighborhoods, large ranches and other difficult-to-access locations. The program is expected to provide substantial cost-per-mile savings by requiring less manpower and less time.
Future expansion plans for this program include the identification of line loss, allowing PEC to continue to find ways to lower costs. Thermal imaging can be used to detect developing equipment issues, and ultrasonic scanning can find places where electricity is being wasted in the system.
In addition, the live-stream capabilities of the UAS can be used during severe weather events for site reconnaissance, allowing our crews to quickly determine the location and cause of system damage.
Our UAS is registered with the Federal Aviation Administration, and in using the aircraft, we will adhere to all aviation laws as well as the best practices recommended by the National Telecommunication and Information Administration.