Have you ever been standing in the field or sitting in a meeting when one of your co-workers throws out, “Maybe we could use a drone to do that?” The technology surrounding Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS, also known as drones) has advanced so quickly and the prices have dropped so dramatically that it is no wonder drones are making their way into our everyday work conversations.  A drone is a tool, and a powerful one at that. While drones are not appropriate for every application, and current UAS regulations can be confusing at first glance, they have the potential to change utility operations and planning in a dramatic way over the next several years.

It was in mid-December of 2015 that a discussion about drone applications for electric utilities became a launching point for Gresco’s UAS initiative. Last May, we held a UAS Utility Working Group meeting to share information and get feedback from our customers on whether this technology had real operational value. We were hoping to have a dozen people in a room for a discussion, but the interest was so high that the attendees filled up the Gresco HQ training center. The forum discussion proved to us that there was value in continuing this conversation.

This past August brought the long-awaited set of new UAS regulations from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which has greatly simplified the requirements for companies to use drones in business operations. Instead of requiring a pilot’s license to operate a drone, the FAA created a Remote Pilot Certificate that can be obtained by taking a knowledge exam and passing a background check. There are still restrictions in place today for flying at night or beyond visual line of sight, but the Congress passed a bill this summer that gives the FAA a deadline for waiving these restrictions for utility companies.

Over the past year, Gresco has been actively establishing relationships with drone manufacturers, service providers, consultants, sensors and accessories manufacturers, and software developers. There are many pieces to the UAS solution puzzle. This summer, we partnered with DJI, which is the largest drone manufacturer in the world and a clear leader in innovation. We have created a set of UAS Utility Packages that include everything required for drone field operations, all in a rugged hardshell custom case. On January 25, 2017, we will hold our first UAS training class that will focus on airspace, safety, and preparation for the FAA’s Remote Pilot Exam. And, we will be following this with equipment-specific operational training classes in the following months.

What started as a discussion about the mere possibilities of UAS technology a year ago has led Gresco to stocking and selling drone equipment today and, soon, holding training classes for utility employees.

How is your drone discussion going? Are you interested in learning more about what drones can do for you? No matter where you are in your discussion, we are here to help. Email us with any thoughts or questions you have about using drones in the field and let’s continue the conversation.