To improve reliability of electric transmission lines, more utilities are taking to the sky with helicopter patrols to conduct low altitude inspections.


Toledo Edison and Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) are the latest to join the flying corps. Toledo Edison serves northwest Ohio, and JCP&L serves northern and central New Jersey. Both utilities will use choppers to conduct transmission line inspections throughout their territories.


In northwest Ohio, residents may see a small helicopter hovering at low altitude over high-voltage lines and transmission towers. Inspections will first be conducted on 345-kilovolt lines and then on lower voltage lines. To increase efficiency, the helicopter will inspect entire spans of wire, which means inspections may extend into neighboring utility service areas.


“Completing these routine inspections via helicopter is an effective way to ensure our high-voltage system remains reliable,” said Anthony Hurley, vice president of operations at JCP&L. “The helicopter can provide workers with a clear view of our overhead equipment far more quickly and easily than workers on the ground using trucks and aerial devices.”


JCP&L’s transmission lines will be patrolled at least twice each year. The patrols typically take 12 to 15 days to complete, depending on weather, other conditions and scheduling requirements.


During the inspection process, JCP&L helicopters will hover low in areas near substations and transmission lines. When an issue is identified, a notification, along with a photograph, will be forwarded to the appropriate operations area so the repair can be made. 


In the future, unmanned drones may ultimately replace piloted helicopters. Last year, the Electric Power Research Institute directed test flights in Alabama of prototype unmanned drones. The drones, which carried video and other sensing equipment, could be deployed to assess damage to transmission and distribution systems following storms, reducing outage time.