The buzz of the tiny propellers were music to Abilene MDS Ike Liles’ ears.
“Today was a great day,” said Liles.
Liles was in Uvalde along with RGV MDS Rock Martinez and RGV employees and drone pilots Moses Vega and Roland Segundo and Abilene Engineer Athan Himmelstein last week for the first official flight of the new company-owned drones at the Uvalde County Fairplex.
Liles and Martinez led a team of four employees taking part in a pilot drone program to explore the benefits of using drones to provide another set of “eyes” in the day-to-day operations. Two employees from Abilene and two from the RGV earned their pilots license and traveled to Uvalde to fly the drones.
“Our guys are finally getting a chance to fly these drones and now we can go out use them in the field,” Liles said. “This will be another tool for us in our toolbox and we’ll start using them more often. They will help us patrol lines after storms; they will help engineers with staking. It is limitless on what we can do with them.”
During Hurricane Harvey in 2017, AEP Texas hired third party contractors to fly drones over the devastation. The “eye in the sky” technology gave damage assessors and crews a bird’s eye view of destroyed facilities and of the work that needed to happen to restore electricity.
This prompted Tom Coad, vice president of Distribution Region Operations, to execute the pilot program. He put Liles and Martinez in charge of the team.
“AEP Texas has always been at the forefront of technology and this is another key piece of technology that our employees will use in their daily work,” Coad said. “There is a lot of excitement and a lot of employees have already expressed interest in become drone pilots.”
Coad said the drones would be used as first responders to help identify damage in the field following a storm and keeping our employees out of harm’s way. The drones also have a thermal feature that will allow mechanics to see hot spots in equipment and identify if parts are heating up without getting too close to the equipment.
Coad gave Liles and Martinez his blessing to continue with the program and explore different ways to use the drones, purchase new drones and certify more pilots.
“These drones will be an important component in helping improve reliability for customers in the next several years,” Coad said.
Currently four employees are already certified drone pilots. Vega, Segundo, Himmelstein and Sawyer Bocanegra from Childress are licensed to fly the drones. They will use them in their respective districts as needed.