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Eversource, DOT put drones to work

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 05. 2016 10:15PM
Franz Loew of JBI Helicopter Services of Pembroke inspects a drone that was used to collect data near transmission lines for Eversource. (COURTESY)

MANCHESTER — Drones aren’t just for fun.

Eversource and the New Hampshire Department of Transportation both have tested the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones.

At DOT, “to date, our Aeronautics Bureau has done some limited testing for airport-related surveys for pavement condition (i.e. cracks) on runways, and obstructions (trees) at airports in Lebanon, Hampton, and Twin Mountain,” DOT spokesman Bill Boynton said in an email.

“There’s no timetable or current plans for expanding the usage at this point,” he said.

Eversource, the state’s largest electric utility, performed “a successful test of the UAV technology” last month in Nashua, said Eversource spokesman Martin Murray.

The flight and the resulting pictures resulted in the company replacing wood arms that hold up electrical wires with steel arms and replacing existing insulators with more durable equipment. Data collected from the drone flight also was be used to strengthen transmission structures within the same utility right-of-way.

“Eversource has used unmanned aerial vehicles occasionally in both Connecticut and Massachusetts, but this was a first for us here in New Hampshire,” he said. “Whether or not they’ll be used here more in the future will be determined through ongoing discussions with our partner, JBI Helicopter Services of Pembroke.”

A call to JBI wasn’t returned.

Utilities and government agencies in other states are using drones, according to Harry McNabb, global vice president of sales and marketing at, which supports the commercial drone industry.

“The potential’s really great because the alternative is a plane or someone in a truck driving on bad roads over long distances, or helicopters, which are pretty dramatic.”

Connecticut is among states using drones to inspect bridges.

“UAVs have the potential to provide a less intrusive and more detailed inspection method and we’re quite interested in how the technology can be appropriately used to help support our customer reliability efforts,” Murray said.

The utility, he said, uses helicopters to inspect transmission lines on a routine basis.

UAVs “allows us to take a very close and effective look at equipment without having to go out into an off-road right-of-way with heavy equipment with bucket trucks or having line workers climb poles,” Murray said.

“The hovering of a drone in one place near that structure may not even be noticed by neighbors, but helicopters there for awhile to take a really good photo or video, that could be viewed as obtrusive,” Murray said. “It does seem it could be quite an effective tool we could take advantage of.”

Editor’s Note:  After this story was published, JBI manager Franz Loew reached out to say the company was using UAVs to offer a level of safety that was not possible with full-sized aircraft. “We are able to provide pictures, video, and infared imaging for a variety of inspections including bridges, wind turbines, solar farms, and more. Everyday we are discovering new ways to utilize UAVs and we have fully embraced the use of UAVs to offer more services to existing clients while also attracting new ones.”

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