This post is also available in: עברית (Hebrew)
New rules for commercially operating UAVs in the U.S. relate to flying in the vicinity of electric power utilities. They have been published by the FAA as Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations, that cover commercial uses of drones weighing less than 55 pounds.
According to the rules, the UAV should be kept within unaided sight. However, you can request a waiver of most operational restrictions if you can show that your proposed operation can be conducted safely. In July 2016, President Obama signed the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 that requires the FAA to establish a process to allow certain UAV operations related to utilities, pipelines, and oil and gas production to be conducted beyond the visual line of sight (bvlos) of the operator and either in the daytime or nighttime, according to geospatial.blogs.com.
The maximum speed is 87 knots and you can’t fly a small UAV over people who are not directly participating in the operation. Yet, operations are allowed from a moving vehicle if flying over a sparsely populated area. Since transmission lines traverse sparsely populated corridors, utilities are now using UAVs piloted from moving vehicles for vegetation management for transmission lines.
Regarding certification, to operate a small UAV under Part 107, you need a remote pilot airman certificate with a small UAV rating. The drone itself does not have to be registered with the FAA. The maximum allowable altitude is 400 feet above the ground. But interestingly it can fly higher if the drone remains within 400 feet of a structure. This allows drones to be used on construction sites of tall structures, for example.
Tree contacts account for 30% of outages in North America. The new regulations mandated in the 2016 Act would enable low cost, fully automated scanning of transmission lines for vegetation management.
By combining LiDAR scanning on a UAV platform with automated extraction of transmission lines spans, pylons and vegetation and identification of vegetation encroachment risks, it is now conceivable that in the near-future outages due to vegetation interaction with transmission lines can be dramatically reduced because scanning is becoming much less expensive.