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FAA Says SDG&E Can Use Drones To Inspect Electrical, Gas Facilities

SDG&E Testing Drone

The Federal Aviation Administration granted San Diego Gas & Electric's request to use unmanned aircraft to conduct aerial inspections of its electric and gas facilities, the utility announced Monday.

SDG&E, which became the second utility in the U.S. to receive such approval, also plans to use drones for emergency response damage assessments throughout its service territory — such as during wildfires or after earthquakes.

"The utility industry is rapidly changing, and this new FAA approval is another milestone that will improve the way SDG&E conducts its operations," said John Sowers, the company's vice president of electric distribution operations.

"The new (drone) technology will enable us to improve response times to emergency situations, inspect our electric and gas facilities in remote areas that are otherwise difficult to access, reduce the use of manned helicopters, enhance overall employee and public safety, and locate the cause of power outages faster," Sowers said.

Last year, SDG&E was granted approval by the FAA to fly a small unmanned aircraft for the purpose of research, development and flight crew training in a sparsely populated airspace in eastern San Diego County. The company also began testing small unmanned aircraft in day-to-day operations to improve inspections of electric lines.

The drones can not only spot the cause of power failures, but improve utility officials' awareness during wildfires, according to SDG&E. The drones should also lower the need to use helicopters and heavy equipment, which will cut costs, reduce noise and help the environment, the utility reported.

SDG&E uses drones that are 16 inches in diameter and weigh less than one pound. They carry a camera to inspect utility equipment and relay live images back to a controller.

Drones can get to infrastructure that is difficult to reach for utility crews and alert them if repairs are needed, according to the utility.

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