The recent F.A.A. Rule changes for commercial drone use have given Bowie-Cass Electric Cooperative Line Inspectors a new tool in their tool bag. A flying eye in the sky that can zoom in on problems and potential problems more cost effectively than ever before. In the past, line inspection was limited to annual helicopter inspections of transmission lines and on foot inspection, from pole to pole, of distribution lines. By taking advantage of new F.A.A. rules, Bowie-Cass Electric Cooperative is now authorized to use a drone for these inspections.
"Drones can get different shots and angles for photos than what's possible by helicopter or by foot" said Monte Simpson, Bowie Cass Line Inspector. Mr. Simpson recently received his F. A. A. Certification to be the first drone pilot for the cooperative. The new rules allow utilities to fly drones weighing no more than 55 pounds below 400 feet without obtaining a waiver from the FAA. The flights must be conducted by a certified commercial drone pilots, and they are limited to flying the drone within the pilots view. "Seeing from the drone's perspective will make line inspections much more thorough and help find issues before they become a problem that can lead to an outage." Simpson said, "It will also be a useful tool for restoration efforts after a storm."
Greg Russell, Maintenance Superintendent for the cooperative, also anticipates improved inspections due to the drone camera's ability to see what the helicopter can't. “One of the problems we've been having are cross arm failures at the through bolt, these can't be seen from a helicopter." said Russell, "with the drone camera, we anticipate being able to see the small cracks that can lead to these failures". Mr. Russell wants Members to know there may be a day when they see our line inspector driving an ATV down a Bowie Cass right of way and doing inspections with a drone. "Most of our inspections can be done from a roadway, but there are areas where the only way to stay within sight of the drone will require our inspector to be in the right of way. It is also possible that if our inspector is on the roadway, the member will see only the drone hovering over our lines." Mr. Russell anticipates that these improved inspections will lead to better reliability in electric service for the cooperative members.