Leading US power utility Dominion Energy has obtained a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) waiver to operate open-ended beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) inspections at over 40 plants using drones from Skydio, whose regulatory team helped secure the approval.
Dominion obtained the waiver under the FAA’s BEYOND program, and will use it to deploy Skydio x2 drones to conduct BVLOS inspections at facilities in Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. The company, which provides power to 7 million customers in 13 states, has steadily expanded its deployment of UAVs since first introducing them in 2014.
The exemption will permit Dominion pilots to fly drones in BVLOS inspection missions relying on Skydio X2’s artificial intelligence-based autonomous flight engine. That tech will ensure automatic 360-degree obstacle avoidance in close proximity to often difficult-to-access power plant infrastructure.
Dominion plans to use the waiver at over 40 of its facilities. BLVOS missions will reduce the number of staffers involved in those inspection flights by eliminating the requirement of a spotter to assist, along with the risks of tradition manual intervention at assets being checked.
“A 20-minute inspection by a battery-powered drone will increase safety for our colleagues, who will no longer need to rappel down the side of a structure, as well as save time during inspection-related preparations,” said Nate Robie, Dominion Energy’s manager of uncrewed systems program. “As a pioneer in beyond visual line of sight drone use, Dominion Energy contributes to a safer, greener future, as well as potentially lowering operations and maintenance costs, which ultimately benefits our customers.”
The Richmond, Virginia-based utility first turned to UAVs to identify defects in electrical transmission lines. Since then, it has broadened its program to over 50 craft deployed on missions across its business segments, including taking volumetric measurements, accessing ongoing construction work, surveying, mapping, and checking infrastructure.
In extending that further to BVLOS drone inspections, says Skydio director of regulatory affairs Jenn Player, Dominion is leading the way to what many observers believe will be the primary flight mode of drone activity across all sectors in the future.
“This pivotal approval brings Dominion Energy, Skydio and the entire drone industry one step closer to advanced drone operations at scale,” said Player. “When it comes to scaling beyond visual line of sight operations, having an intelligent drone makes all the difference and Skydio was proud to support Dominion Energy in obtaining this waiver that enables them to inspect critically important facilities.”