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With new tech, Aerial Services helps speed safe Ida recovery

The Aerial Services team supports an increasingly wide range of the Southern Company system’s core business functions. With advances in aviation technology, the team continues to find new ways to deliver more value, like during restoration after storms.

Recently, the team supported restoration efforts after Hurricane Ida caused significant damage to transmission lines – plunging upwards of a million Louisiana and Mississippi homes and businesses into the dark, including the entire city of New Orleans.

While Aerial Services has a long history of post-hurricane damage assessments, Ida was a first for using new camera and sensor technology that makes visual inspections safer and easier following a hurricane.

The team has maximized the value of an existing asset by mounting a high-resolution camera with machine-learning abilities onto a helicopter that was already in use. These specialized camera systems help the team identify potential issues with transmission structures and provide a safer and more efficient way to perform critical storm recovery work.

“Utilizing the helicopter and high-resolution camera, my team is able to safely fly 400-500 feet above the transmission lines, capture photos and videos of the damage and identify the exact location of the damaged structure,” said Aerial Services Director Harry Nuttall.

Using transmission line details, the team can create an overlay on high-definition video footage that can identify specific structures and sections of lines that are damaged.

Pilot Doug Watson shared, “The cameras provide a much safer and more efficient way to capture storm damage to transmission lines. Now we can fly the path of the transmission lines, with the camera capturing all of the damage instead of flying with a passenger looking out the window with binoculars to locate damaged structures and lines.”

With support from teammates around the system – including Alabama Power’s Bobby Hawthorne – pilots, sensor operators and maintenance technicians flew a total of nearly 800 miles and inspected more than 8,000 structures over the course of 10 days in Mississippi and Louisiana.  

“It was a great success in that it was well-coordinated and provided important operational feedback for future events,” said Chief Pilot and System Integration Manager Kevin Brown.

The team will continue using technological advances in aviation – and a continuous improvement mindset – to unlock even more value for the system, while continuing to learn about the potential of the new technology used during the Ida restoration.

Aerial Services was already using the technology to support on-system storm recovery, including for Alabama Power following a tornado earlier this year.