New laws passed in the United States will make it easier for electric co-ops to use drones.
A vote in the Senate passed by 89 votes to 4 allowing operators of critical infrastructure such as electricity to use unmanned aerial vehicles with fewer restrictions. President Obama signed the bill into law on 15 July.
The Federal Aviation Association (FAA) has limited the use of most small commercial drones to daytime hours, also restricting the flight to remaining within the line of sight.
But these restrictions don’t apply for utility providers such as electric co-ops. They can fly during the night time and beyond the line of sight, as long as they meet federal, state or local regulations and industry best practices.
The bill was championed by the Republican senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, also the chair of the senate environment and public works committee, and senator Cory Booker from New Jersey.
Senator Inhofe said: “I applaud the Senate for passing the FAA Reauthorization Act with broad bipartisan support. It is a comprehensive bill with many important provisions that will benefit Oklahomans and the general aviation community by strengthening the cost-effective contract tower program and removing red tape that delays adoption of new safety technologies in the aviation sector.
“I am proud that this legislation includes my amendment to allow companies to use unmanned aircraft systems for the purposes of maintaining critical infrastructure.”
Electricity co-ops will be able to use drones fitted with cameras for tasks such as surveillance following storms or natural disasters – to see accurate pictures of any damage to power lines.
The interim CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) Jeffrey Connor said: “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.”
- This article was amended on 15 August. A previous version incorrectly identified Kirk Johnson as NRECA’s interim CEO.