San Diego Gas & Electric join list of FAA UAS exemptions

By Emily Aasand | March 31, 2015

San Diego Gas & Electric, a public utility service provider, has been added to the growing company  list of Section 333 exemptions  for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) granted by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. SDG&E will now be able to use UAS to conduct aerial inspections of its electric and gas facilities, including emergency response damage assessments throughout its service territory.

“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, SDG&E’s vice president of electric distribution operations. “The new UAS 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.”

In 2014, SDG&E was grated FAA approval to fly a small UAS for research, development and flight crew training in eastern San Diego County. Through that, the company began testing sUAS in day-to-day operations to improve inspections of electric lines, SDG&E said.

SDG&E says it plans to use UASs in several situations which provide a variety of key benefits. The company says UASs will improve situational awareness during emergencies through monitoring of fire, and will achieve cost-saving, noise reductions and environmental protection by reducing the use of helicopters and other heavy machinery.

“Measuring 16 inches in diameter and weighing less than a pound, these small devices use a camera to inspect utility equipment and relay live images back to the control. The UAS can access infrastructure that is difficult to reach for utility crews and alert them if repairs are need,” SDG&E added.

SDG&E is just the second utility in the nation to be granted the Section 333 approval. In early March, Commonwealth Edison Company (ComEd) received an FAA UAS exemption to inspect power lines.


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