Specialist public safety and first responder drone consultancy Skyfire says it successfully assisted wildfire-plagued utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) to obtain a Federal Aviation Administration waiver to operate beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) infrastructure flights throughout the entire state of California.
Atlanta-based Skyfire has a long record of providing piloting instruction, advice on establishing drone units, and other services to public safety agencies and first responder organizations. More recently, Skyfire used its experience in helping clients organize and operate critical infrastructure drone inspections to aid PG&E attain the BVLOS waiver – a potentially huge asset in maintaining the safety of the company’s power facilities, transmission lines, and gas pipelines that cover over 70,000-square miles across California.
Skyfire’s help in muscling up PG&E’s inspection and repair efforts through BVLOS drone missions is expected to considerably improve the utility’s efforts to prevent the annual spate of wildfires that its aging, at times overgrown transmission infrastructure has repeatedly been blamed for. The utility – one of that largest natural gas and electricity providers in the US – has been held responsible for over 30 wildfires in California since 2017.
A mix of heat waves, heavy winds, high electricity demand, and sparks jumping from lines touching by trees or down to under-maintained grassy areas were often the source of the blazes that destroyed over 23,000 homes and claimed more than 100 lives.
Earlier this year the company was ordered by a court to pay $55 million in damages to victims of the Dixie and Kincade Fires – part of the total $25.5 billion in compensation PG&E has had to dish out thus far. It faces another proposal by California’s Public Utilities Commission to provide an additional $155 million related to the 2020 Zogg Fire.
Relying on the waiver Skyfire helped it secure, PG&E will now be able to fly BVLOS drone inspection flights above and around ever larger sections of the company’s critical infrastructure, especially assets located in high fire risk areas across the entire state.
In addition to counseling the utility in obtaining that authorization, Skyfire is also advising PG&E on the most effective methods of conducting BVLOS inspection flights, and using drones in responding to the environmental challenges of California’s formidable wildfire risks. Those range from aerial efforts to prevent blazes from breaking out, to cleanup and reforestation with partner DroneSeed in the wake of infernos.
“Skyfire’s work in the California wildfire community is incredibly important to us and the residents who live in those high-threat areas, so we were thrilled to get the opportunity to help PG&E prevent wildfires,” said Matt Sloane, Skyfire CEO. “Leveraging our years of experience in public safety and working with first responders, we’ve formed an entire portfolio assisting organizations focused on critical infrastructure.”