The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has granted San Diego Gas & Electric permission to use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to conduct aerial inspections of the public utility's electric and gas facilities, including emergency response damage assessments throughout its service territory.

SDG&E is the second utility in the nation to be granted the Section 333 approval.

“The new UAS technology will enable us to improve response times to emergency situations, inspect our electric and gas facilities in remote areas that are otherwise difficult to access, reduce the use of manned helicopters, enhance overall employee and public safety, and locate the cause of power outages faster,” said John Sowers, SDG&E’s vice president of electric distribution operations.

In 2014, SDG&E was granted approval by the FAA to fly small drones for the purpose of research, development and flight crew training in a sparsely populated airspace in eastern San Diego County. Through research and development, SDG&E began testing small unmanned aircraft in day-to-day operations to improve inspections of electric lines.

Measuring 16 inches in diameter and weighing less than a pound, the devices use a camera to inspect utility equipment and relay live images back to the controller. The drones can access infrastructure that is difficult to reach for utility crews and alert them if repairs are needed.

SDG&E inspects more than 26,000 miles of transmission and distribution power lines for safety and compliance purposes and to ensure the grid is continuously running smoothly and effectively.