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NYPA Granted FAA Waiver Allowing Drone Operations Beyond Visual Line of Sight

The Federal Aviation Administration has granted the New York Power Authority license to fly unmanned aircraft systems beyond the visual line of sight of the pilot in command in a one-mile radius in any unrestricted, or Class G, airspace without prior approval.

The approved waiver expands the Power Authority’s ability to use drones to monitor and inspect its transmission, generation and canal assets throughout the state and further advances the goals of the Power Authority’s VISION2030 strategic plan, it said on April 10.

“In the past few years, NYPA has significantly invested in its robotics program, understanding that drones can safely and quickly inspect assets that are critical to the delivery of clean power throughout the state,” said NYPA President and CEO Justin Driscoll. “The FAA-approved waiver will further expand the Power Authority’s asset inspection capabilities. NYPA is now well positioned as an energy industry leader to showcase the many uses for drone technology in our day-to-day electric utility operations.”

FAA regulations require pilots to maintain visual contact while operating a drone. The waiver allows operators to conduct missions without the requirement for the pilot or an observer to see the unmanned aircraft.

The ability to view assets remotely will improve safety for workers and allow for the expeditious inspection of NYPA assets, NYPA said.

NYPA’s expanded ability to operate drones will primarily be used to inspect transmission assets and canal waterways. Drones significantly reduce the time required to inspect a transmission line, particularly after inclement weather or flooding, it noted.

The waiver was obtained with the help of Skydio, a U.S. drone and software manufacturer providing equipment and advisory services. The waiver authorizes operations through 2028 and is specific to Skydio drones.

“Drones have become invaluable tools for safer and more efficient infrastructure inspection and monitoring,” said Skydio Regulatory Program Manager Jakee Stoltz. “This approval includes the Skydio X10, with upgraded Skydio Autonomy and obstacle avoidance, which enables NYPA to maintain critical infrastructure with greater confidence without the need for an expert pilot.

“This FAA waiver represents a leap forward in NYPA’s ability to manage and inspect our assets more efficiently,” said NYPA Robotics Program Manager Peter Kalaitzidis. “By integrating advanced robotics technology into our operations, we can enhance our infrastructure's reliability and performance, ensuring the delivery of clean energy to New York’s grid.”

Last year, NYPA announced that it had received a waiver from the FAA to conduct fully remote drone operations at its Blenheim-Gilboa Pumped Storage Power Project in Schoharie County.

NYPA’s in-house drone program is researching and testing new applications to implement drone use in day-to-day utility operations while maintaining the highest standards of aviation professionalism and safety.

Drones are operated at various NYPA sites throughout the state to monitor asset health, including the inspection of transmission lines, vegetation management and monitoring of overgrown trees, and spillway erosion mapping. More than 100 NYPA employees are now trained as drone pilots, up from 40 last year.

To improve the safety and efficiency of its utility operations, NYPA is investing more than $37 million in its drone program through 2028.

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