‘It’s safer and faster’: Kentucky Power using drone pilots to assess power line damage

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Published: Feb. 19, 2021 at 6:54 PM EST
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HAZARD, Ky. (WYMT) - Before Kentucky Power can send crews to restore power, a damage assessment has to be completed. Some of that assessment is begin completed by drones.

“Our main goal is to get the information they need so we can get the power back on as quick as possible,” said Jonathan Beaty, a field inspection services manager for Kiewit, a vendor for Kentucky Power.

Kiewit has been using pilots to fly drones for utility damage since 2016. The drone pilots inspect damage on distribution and transmission lines.

“The drone allows us to get up in the air and move across some of these valleys and over the mountain where ordinarily it would be difficult to get a vehicle up especially with the icy and snowy roads,” said Beaty.

A drone can inspect a line within 15 to 20 minutes. A job that would take power crews hours or even days to complete.

“We can do it significantly faster than a person walking especially when it’s cold and icy like this. We don’t want anyone to get hurt. It’s a lot easier for us to just use a drone,” said Beaty.

The pilot works with a visual observer, to add extra awareness in where the drone location is. Pilots can only fly beyond visual line of sight if they acquire an emergency waiver approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which they often do.

Pilots document each circuit and give the report back to Kentucky Power.

“We can review it on the spot while we’re flying it and then we’ll also have a record of it when we’re done so we can take a deeper dive into really what’s wrong,” said Beaty.

When the assessment is done, Kentucky Power can send out a crew, knowing the exact damage and what equipment they need.

“What it does is prevents linemen and assessors from unnecessarily being put in harms way,” said Beaty.

Beaty, who is from Kansas has been in Kentucky since Monday. He worked in the Ashland area before coming to Hazard. He expects to be sent back to Ashland.

“We’re probably doing 10 to 20 different calls a day and it would probably be more but some of these areas are just hard to get to.” said Beaty.

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