A large–scale BVLOS collaborative project which explores how drone technology can be used to carry out an inspection on energy structure is set to begin conducting trials on electricity and gas networks this spring.
The three-year programme which began in May 2018 is coordinated by the EIC, led by Wales & West Utilities in collaboration with Cadent, National Grid Gas Transmission, Northern Gas Networks, Northern Powergrid, Scottish & Southern Electricity Networks and UK Power Networks, and supported by Connected Places Catapult.
It is a UK first and a designated Government Pathfinder Project and works with the CAA on how the application of drone technology could transform the way the industry carries out essential maintenance tasks.
Conducted by Wiltshire based aviation specialists, Callen-Lenz, the trials are being carried out in segregated airspace, on electricity and gas networks, and aim to establish a regularised operating framework for the use of drones beyond visual line of sight.
Flights in Northern Powergrid’s operating area in the North of England are underway and flights in Wales and West Utilities operating area will take place in June.
Andy Walbridge, chief designer of avionic systems at Callen-Lenz, said: “Callen-Lenz is thrilled to work with an enthusiastic team focused on the benefits of BVLOS. Significant effort has been expended working with the CAA to obtain the necessary exemptions to allow BVLOS flights within the first phase of the project. Flight trials have now commenced, and the outcomes will inform subsequent planning and objective setting for trials in non-segregated airspace.”
The groups involved hopes the initiative marks a key milestone in the journey towards the implementation of a comprehensive operating framework into business as usual for drone inspection in the energy sector.
Andy Bilclough, Northern Powergrid’s director of field operations, added: “This pioneering trial could improve the way network companies inspect, manage and maintain their networks for customers. We’re proud to be the first UK electricity network operator, in this trial, to have BVLOS flights in its operating area.”
He continued: “Through this partnership, learnings can be shared to create BVLOS flight industry standards which enable quicker, quieter and more cost-efficient network inspections, which will benefit customers across the UK and beyond.”