Last week, Xcel Energy (Xcel), Colorado’s largest utility company, received a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for drone operations beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). Xcel will use drones to conduct routine inspections of electronic transmissions lines, making it the first utility company to receive such an authorization. Xcel’s CEO and Chairman, Ben Fowke, said, “With this groundbreaking decision, we are advancing the use of technology that improves our efficiency and provides cost savings for our customers.”

Beginning this summer, Xcel will use its FAA authority to survey transmission lines 20 miles north of Denver International Airport. In order to conduct these drone missions safely, Xcel will be working with very well-respected leaders in the drone space. The drones are expected to supplement manned-aircraft and in-person inspections, but will lessen the costs associated with such inspections, allow the inspections to be conducted in more flexible timeframes and decrease the chances of accidents and injuries related to hands-on inspections.

Prior to receiving this waiver, Xcel has worked with the FAA to develop a safety plan for electronic transmission line inspections through a program in Minneapolis (where Xcel is based) to inspect 20,000 miles of lines across 10 states. The data collected during that program was used by the FAA to help in the creation of future policies for conducting infrastructure and energy inspection across the country. To view the waiver, click here.