NYPA, Skydio receive FAA waiver for BVLOS drone inspections

NYPA Skydio BVLOS drone

The New York Power Authority (NYPA) has taken another step in its increasing use of drones as tools in inspecting and managing its vast infrastructure by obtaining a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) waver for beyond visual line of sight flights (BVLOS) at its Blenheim-Gilboa Pumped Storage Power Project, in partnership with Skydio.

The NYPA said Skydio helped guide its request through the FAA’s evaluation process, which ultimately granted the utility a waiver to operate BVLOS drone flights at the Blenheim-Gilboa plant, providing the craft remain within 50 feet above ground level or within 50 feet of structures. The facility is located in Schoharie County – north of New York City and west of Albany – and will use the UAVs for asset and vegetative management inspections.

Deployment of the craft on BVLOS missions in partnership with Skydio is an extension of NYPA’s work to broaden its use of the craft under its “digitization initiative to modernize grid infrastructure to advance the efficient delivery of clean power statewide.”

Last November the utility announced it had begun integrating artificial intelligence systems to automate and significantly speed up analysis of data captured during aerial inspections. That combination allows the NYPA to detect weak points in transmission structures requiring repair, and take preventive action to prevent those from leading to costly outages.

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Demonstration of safe operation in the application for the waiver was conducted at the New York UAS test site. The NYPA and Skydio designated Blenheim-Gilboa plant for its FAA BVLOS request due to the relatively sparse population in that area, allowing the utility to implement and expand those missions without risk to people. 

Once such operations become routine there, the NYPA hopes to gain authorization to extend them throughout its network – the largest state public power structure in the nation.

“Our application demonstrated to the FAA that we are ready to enhance our program and capabilities,” said NYPA’s drone program manager, Peter Kalaitzidis. “Having this waiver removes limitations and unlocks opportunities moving forward. We will continue to explore potential uses for this technology that will benefit the Authority and hopefully the industry at large. At present, we are developing the procedures, mitigation steps, and hardware so we can best use these resources over the next few years.”

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The NYPA has about 40 trained drone pilots on staff – hardly enough to cover its sprawing infrastructure on a daily basis. But both its BVLOS application to the FAA, and the utility’s plans for future inspection work across its grid, rely heavily on the automated capabilities of Skydio craft.

“This important approval enables NYPA to operate Skydio drones beyond line of sight without visual observers,” said Jenn Player, Skydio’s senior director of Regulatory Affairs. “Skydio autonomy and collision avoidance capabilities are key to conducting these low-altitude, high-value operations safely and easily.”

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