July 22, 2016
The Senate on July 13 voted 89-4 to pass legislation supporting the use of unmanned aerial vehicles by operators of critical infrastructure such as utilities. President Obama is expected to sign the bill, H.R. 636, into law.
Oklahoma Republican Jim Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, joined with Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., to ensure provisions helpful to electric co-ops were part of the bill.
“America’s electric cooperatives appreciate Chairman Inhofe’s leadership in passing legislation to streamline the permitting process for UAVs. This legislation will enable cooperatives to reduce risk for their employees, shorten outage times and save money for their member-owners,” said NRECA interim CEO Jeffrey Connor.
The legislation allows co-ops to fly drones beyond the line-of-sight and during nighttime hours to conduct utility duties that meet federal, state or local regulations and industry best practices, such as right-of-way inspections.
Co-ops will not be limited to the rules for commercial operation of drones that were recently revised by the Federal Aviation Administration. The revisions included eliminating the need for a pilot’s license to fly a drone.
Surveillance by drones equipped with cameras can speed safe recovery of power following severe weather by showing where transmission lines are damaged and to what extent. Drones can also be handy tools in vegetation management and routine inspections of critical equipment.
“In all, our members will be much more able to take advantage of this technology if they want to thanks to the regulatory and legislative changes,” said Kirk Johnson, NRECA senior vice president of government relations.
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