Aviation history for grid maintenance

09.10.2020

The Austrian transmission system operator (TSO) APG, the Austrian IT company SmartDigital, and Austro Control, the Austrian air traffic control authority, jointly carried out the first civilian test flight in which an unmanned drone completed a long-range flight of over 100 kilometres. The maiden flight indicates in which areas of the economy drones can be usefully employed.

However, the TSCNET shareholder did not only carry out the flight to explore the technical possibilities of drone flight, but rather to demonstrate potential applications for monitoring the electricity infrastructure. After all, secure power supply is one of the most important foundations of contemporary society, making it so important that the hardware and software of this infrastructure is fully efficient and intact. To ensure this, it must be regularly monitored. In future, overhead line inspection flights could be performed by unmanned drones, especially in weather conditions where conventional helicopter flights are not possible, e.g. at night or in fog.

After an intensive preparation phase and a comprehensive risk assessment, Austro Control granted permission for this first civilian long-range drone flight without visual contact. The drone surveyed the 380kV line leading from the South-East substation in Vienna to Burgenland, more precisely the section from Vienna to Rotenturm an der Pinka. Gerhard Christiner, CTO of APG, comments: “This pilot project shows how we will be able to inspect lines even better in future, for example in the event of disruptions. This will allow us to find and eliminate malfunctions more quickly. This is an important contribution to security of supply and saves costs.”

Thomas Karall, CFO of APG, adds: “On high and extra-high voltage lines, failures, which we cannot clearly assign, occur time and again. A short-term inspection by means of drone flight would be of great help to us here, because it is often only a matter of verifying whether everything works properly after a short power interruption of a line has occurred.” However, many test flights and legal regulations are still needed before this vision can become reality. In the near future, APG intends to further develop its know-how and use the latest technical possibilities for inspections.

APG has successfully completed the first unmanned drone flight over a 100-kilometre power line (picture: Carolina Burger / APG)

Linkup
> See APG press release, in German (html)