On 6 March 2018, Elia tested the first long-distance flight, with a Delair fixed-wing drone which successfully completed a demonstration flight along a 70kV high-voltage line in Sint-Truiden. The unmanned aerial vehicle took off from Droneport, an incubator for drones, and completed a 10 km flight lasting 30 minutes.
The system operator wants to deploy drones to inspect Belgium’s high-voltage grid, which comprises more than 5,700 km of high-voltage overhead lines. Drones can help to perform daily visual checks and assess for damage in the event of power outages.
At the moment, only drone flights within the field of vision are permitted. The aim of this test flight was to demonstrate that long-distance flights can be conducted safely.
Deploying drones as ‘eyes in the sky’ has a number of key advantages: the current running through the high- voltage line does not need to be switched off, the inspection takes less time, and the inspector remains safe on the ground. After an incident, such as a storm, Elia can more quickly ascertain whether any damage has been caused.
They have already conducted tests deploying multicopter drones for local inspection flights. Now it is the turn of long-distance flights involving fixed-wing drones. Their current policy on inspections provides for regular checks on foot, by car or by helicopter. This way the grid operator verifies whether pylons and electrical equipment are still in an acceptable state or condition and if the distance to vegetation remains sufficient. They are busily preparing for the structural deployment of drones. To this end, four pilots have already been trained internally, and four more employees have started training as pilots.
Read the complete Elia Press Release on : http://www.elia.be/~/media/files/Elia/PressReleases/2018/20180306_Elia-drone-pilot-flight_EN_V2.pdf