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The Grid Professionals Group covers electric current from its transmission step down to each customer's home. 

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Xcel Energy Drones Granted FAA Beyond-Line-of-Sight Waiver

In the recent past, many businesses have debated the efficiency and practicality of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).  But earlier this year, the FAA granted a waiver to Xcel Energy to fly unmanned aircrafts beyond the line of sight (BVLOS).  It is important to note that 99 percent of all BVLOS Part 107 waivers are rejected by the Federal Aviations Association.  The reason?  Safety.  How can companies ensure the safety of other aircraft or people and property on the ground or in the air?  The FAA requires companies to demonstrate safety, mitigate risks and provide details about everything involved.  To set the standards, the FAA partnered with three U.S. companies to gather information on drone applications and safety scenarios.  Through that partnership, safety guidelines, best practices and lessons learned may continue to unlock the potential of BVLOS drone flight for more companies.

Xcel Energy hopes to improve grid reliability and safety for their employees and the public with the use of drones. Over the summer, drones flew within a designated area to inspect transmission lines.  In September they became the first U.S. utility to fly a drone beyond the line of sight (BVLOS) during ongoing inspections.  Lisa Kiava in Media Relations at Xcel Energy stated the utility will work with the FAA to extend our beyond line-of-sight operations in other states where the company provides electric service. North Dakota has been conducting a series of test flights with high and low-altitude drones equipped with cameras, advanced data modeling and and analysis technologies. 

Reducing risks and costs are some of the benefits to flying BVLOS.   Utilities can collect more data in fewer deployments, complete inspections without the use of trucks, helicopters or other utility equipment and by collecting data from places they never could before, they can increase productivity.  Xcel inspects more than 320,000 miles of electricity and natural gas infrastructure to ensure the safety and reliability of its energy system.  The use of drones in day-to-day operations is increasing but their potential goes beyond inspections.  Drones can provide remote diagnostics, infrastructure support, diagnose damaged areas and respond to interruptions or outages.  Deploying drones during incident response operations seems like the next logical step for Xcel Energy and for utilities nationwide.

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