More and more utility companies are finding drones (or more formally, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV)) useful, and cost effective, to inspect power lines in lieu of sending up their employees to carry out the dangerous task. This month, New Braunfels Utilities (NBU), a community-owned non-profit utility company in New Braunfels, Texas, will begin sending drones up to perform inspections on its electric distribution lines. NBU will use Survey and Mapping LLC (Survey and Mapping) to carry out the inspections on NBU’s behalf. Survey and Mapping will inspect over 5-miles of power lines for NBU.

Most importantly, NBU is setting an example for other utility companies seeking to use drones in place of their employees to conduct these type of inspections; NBU is alerting all of its customers that this work (i.e., drone inspections) will be taking place so that they can address any questions or concerns their customers might have. While Survey and Mapping pilot and crew will be walking on foot below the power lines while the drone flies above conducting the inspection, the drone will generally be flying in the public right-of-way. NBU’s power lines are about 40-50 feet tall, but the drones will fly about 100 feet in the air and will make multiple landings below. NBU does not want its customers to be alarmed if they see or hear a drone in the public airspace. The drones will also be marked with Survey and Mapping’s log and will provide customers (or others near the operation) with identification upon request.

This notice to NBU customers is being provided simply as a best practice, and NBU assures its customers that it (and Survey and Mapping) is conducting the inspections in accordance with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.

This is just an interesting example of how companies are using drones for commercial purposes, while not only complying with FAA regulations, but keeping the public aware of the drones that are flying in the public airspace.