Attendees at the NBAA Schedulers & Dispatchers Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, heard yesterday about how utility giant Duke Energy successfully integrated its drone operations within its corporate flight department during a session entitled “Droning On.” Bryan Williams, Duke Energy’s manager of unmanned aerial systems (UAS), told attendees the integration began more than 3.5 years ago and has been beneficial in standing up a UAS program including in areas such as developing a safety management system.
He said the UAS program has grown from a staff of three to 16, not including dozens of transmission linemen and other workers who have received their Part 107 certificates to operate drones from training by Duke’s UAS staff.
He recounted a successful operation by Duke following Hurricane Florence that involved 46 drone teams—pilot and observer—and 15 owned and contracted helicopters. “Drones aren’t the silver bullet for everything,” he said, but for some jobs drones have proven more cost-effective than operating helicopters, such as instances when the company needs to do aerial photography. Williams said to this day he “continues to lean on” the flight department when it comes to developing internal policies and other related matters. “I think it’s been very beneficial to be part of a corporate flight department,” he explained.