Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Unmanned Aircraft Systems

As a leader in the research and development of emerging energy technologies, Southern Company began investigating the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, in early 2015. One of the first U.S. utilities to receive Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval to pilot UAS, we have been exploring the use of drones for a variety of tasks, including storm damage assessment and routine power line inspections. There are applications for this technology across all parts of our business, opening up new opportunities to improve safety and reliability, reduce costs and create better ways to serve customers.

Southern Company's use of UAS

Here are some frequently asked questions about the Southern Company system's use of UAS.

Are drones and UAS and UAV the same thing?

Are drones and UAS and UAV the same thing?

Yes, the three names refer to the same technology. UAS stands for unmanned aircraft systems, and a UAV is an unmanned aircraft vehicle. Sometimes you may see "aerial" instead of "aircraft."

How is Southern Company using UAS?

We are finding more applications every day, but here's a short list of some ways we've used drones:

Assessing storm damage.

Southern Company subsidiary Georgia Power used UAS following Hurricane Hermine to fly over lines that were difficult to get to in order to scout damage and speed restoration. Using drones after storms is one of the most promising advantages of this technology for customers.

Routine inspections.

Drones have been put to work inspecting infrastructure such as transmission lines and towers. They provide an innovative, cost-effective alternative to manned helicopter flights for performing many routine work projects.

Protecting endangered species.

Southern Company used drones to inspect osprey and eagle nests atop transmission towers to determine if the nests were active before starting construction and maintenance work. Had the nests indeed been active (they were not), the birds would not have been disturbed.

Plant construction.

During construction of Georgia Power's Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4, UAS were used instead of a helicopter to photograph the process.

Vegetation management.

Southern Company has used drones to assess difficult-to-access rights of way to support tree trimming and vegetation management decisions - an important factor in ensuring safe and reliable service for customers.

Lake management.

A drone was used to map sections of Georgia's Lake Oliver to support management of hydrilla, an invasive vegetation. With UAS, lake managers could more efficiently pinpoint their treatments.

Why use drones instead of helicopters?

Why use drones instead of helicopters?

Drones can keep workers on the ground rather than putting them in the air to perform inspections, mapping, surveying and a variety of other tasks. They have the potential to be more cost effective, safe and efficient compared to traditional ways of monitoring infrastructure and collecting data. Drones also have less impact on the environment and are significantly quieter than helicopters. All in all, under certain conditions, UAS can be a far better alternative to traditional helicopter flights.

Who regulates UAS flights?

Who regulates UAS flights?

The FAA regulates the use of UAS, and commercial uses of UAS are regulated differently from individual hobbyists. In June 2016, the FAA announced a final rule on the operation and certification of small UAS. Soon thereafter, the White House released executive actions to promote the safe use of drones and help accelerate their use within the utility industry.