Xcel Energy First Utility to Receive Permission from the FAA for BVLOS Flights

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Xcel Energy was recently granted permission from the FAA to conduct regular drone missions beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) in Denver, Colorado.

Xcel Energy is Colorado’s largest utility company, and they plan to use their BVLOS permission to conduct routine inspections of their electronic transmission lines.

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Starting this summer, Xcel will be flying beyond visual line of sight regularly in an area about 20 miles north of Denver International Airport, using a drone that weighs a little less than 55 pounds (or 25 kilograms).

The company will be working with several industry leaders to conduct these BVLOS flights, including Northern Plains UAS Test Site, Phoenix Air UNMANNED, LLC, Altus Intelligence, and Harris Corporation. After completing the planned inspections in the Denver area, Xcel plans to work in partnership with the FAA to bring BVLOS operations into other states where they operate.

Xcel Energy is honored to be the first utility to conduct flights that will enhance grid reliability and safety for our employees and the public. With this groundbreaking decision, we are advancing the use of technology that improves our efficiency and provides cost savings for our customers.

– Ben Fowke, CEO of Xcel Energy

Back in January, Xcel Energy signed a Safety Partnership Program with the FAA to operate drones for powerline inspections within sight of operators, and they’ve been working with the FAA for several years to create operational and safety requirements for the use of drones in the utility industry.

The first company to receive permission for BVLOS flights from the FAA was the BNSF Railway Company back in August of 2016. This permission was granted through their membership in the FAA’s Pathfinder Program, which was formed to explore various types of flying that are generally prohibited by the Part 107 regulations, such as flights over people and beyond visual line of sight.

Since BNSF received the first BVLOS waiver in 2016, 18 other companies have been granted permission to fly BVLOS by the FAA (you can see the full list of companies by going to this page on the FAA’s site and typing “107.31” into the search bar).

Of all of those waivers, almost half—or eight out of nineteen, to be precise—have been granted in the first four months of 2018. And just this month, following Xcel Energy’s BVLOS waiver, Project Wing also received a BVLOS waiver from the FAA.

Here are all the BVLOS (or 107.31) waivers granted by the FAA so far this year, with Xcel Energy and Project Wing shown at the bottom:

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When you look at the progress made on granting waivers to fly over people, BVLOS, and the aggressive timeline the FAA recently announced for nation-wide LAANC expansion—not to mention all of the innovative programs proposed by various states under the new UAS Integration Pilot Program—it looks like the future could be getting pretty bright for the drone industry here in the U.S.



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