Xcel Energy makes history with BVLOS UAS flights

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Xcel Energy has become the first U.S. utility company to fly UAS beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) for ongoing inspections.

The BVLOS flights are a part of Xcel Energy's inspections of transmission lines near Denver.

“Today’s flight takes us a step closer to fully integrating unmanned aircraft into our operations,” says Ben Fowke, chairman, president and CEO, Xcel Energy.

“This innovative technology is revolutionizing our work by improving the safety, efficiency and cost effectiveness of maintaining and protecting the grid for our customers.”

On Sept. 12, Xcel Energy, along with local, state and federal officials, celebrated the milestone flights and watched as the UAS inspected electric power lines near Ft. St. Vrain Generating Station in Platteville, Colorado.

Licensed pilots are remotely operating a 35-pound UAS using advanced command-and-control technology. Equipped with two cameras, the UAS is collecting data on the condition of power lines and transmission towers with flights along a 50-mile route.

“Leading the development of unmanned aircraft builds on our longstanding commitment to safety for our workers, the public and the environment,” says David Eves, executive vice president, group president-utilities, Xcel Energy.

“This is especially important in Colorado where inspecting power lines in the mountains and remote locations is challenging work.”

Following the completion of the transmission inspections near the Denver area, Xcel Energy and its partners will work with the FAA to extend these operations in other states where the company provides electric service.