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Southern Company secures pioneering beyond-visual-line-of-sight waiver for remote operations using unmanned aircraft systems

Waiver enables remote inspection and mapping for multiple use cases at the James M. Barry Electric Generating Plant in Mobile County, Alabama

Southern Company today announced the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has granted Southern Company approval to remotely launch and operate drones at Alabama Power's James M. Barry Electric Generating Plant located in Bucks, Alabama.

The waiver, the first of its kind obtained by the company, allows Southern Company to conduct advanced 'beyond visual line of sight' (BVLOS) operations.  Under the waiver, Southern Company operators will use drones to map and inspect stacks, transmission lines, and basins at its Plant Barry facility.  Compared to traditional manual inspection methods, remotely operated dock-based drones will help Southern Company perform safer, more efficient recurring inspections of its critical infrastructure — unlocking tangible value via timely, high-quality data, increased safety for its operators, and enhanced productivity.

“Obtaining this waiver will help Southern Company continue to lead the energy industry in deploying state-of-the-art drone operation technology and elevating their processes,” said Harry Nuttall, director of Aerial Services for Southern Company.  “The drone technology will offer a cost-effective platform for inspection while increasing efficiency and safety at Plant Barry.”

Southern Company will conduct these operations in partnership with Skydio, whose regulatory team assisted with obtaining the BVLOS waiver. Using Skydio 2+, the industry-leading autonomous drone solution that enables 360° obstacle avoidance, GPS-denied navigation, and complete workflow automation, Skydio's AI technology will allow Southern Company operators to safely inspect infrastructure at Plant Barry in close proximity to structures, even in complex environments that would be challenging or impractical with less sophisticated drone technology.

“It is an amazing process to develop our vision for autonomous flight and to achieve the BVLOS with Skydio and our Southern Company Aerial Services team,” said Steven Ford, Compliance manager at Barry Generating Plant.   

“Our partnership with the employees working at the site enabled us to collaborate and bring the most advanced drone technology to the facility,” said Dean Barfield, UAS program manager for Southern Company. 

“This pioneering approval represents a key milestone for Southern Company, Skydio and the industry at large in realizing the full potential of drones through autonomy,” said Jenn Player, Skydio's Director of Regulatory Affairs. “Skydio was proud to support Southern Company in obtaining this waiver that enables safer and more efficient operations at Plant Barry through recurring remote drone inspections.”