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Unmanned Aerial Systems (Drones) overview

Since January, 2016, Westar has been using unmanned aircraft systems (UAS, or drones) for the inspection of our critical infrastructure. We use drones for two main purposes: to identify potential problems before they happen, and assist in locating problems when they happen. This time and cost saving technology was made possible by the FAA granting Westar permission to conduct commercial operations using drones in approved airspace. Recent changes in regulations have made it easier for Westar to utilize this emerging technology in many areas.

Benefits and Uses

  • Capture high-resolution images and video to better show potential problems with structures and equipment.
  • Generate high-resolution Orth mosaic and 3-D maps of large areas like substations and equipment yards for accurate measurements and planning.
  • Employees can conduct inspections without having to be near high-voltage equipment or hazards of working heights.
  • Allows for the safe inspection of environmentally sensitive areas without the use of bucket trucks, helicopter or other utility vehicles.
  • Save customers money by making operations more safe and efficient.
  • Reduce duration of outages by making inspection and repairs more efficient.
  • Assist Corporate Communications with promotional images and video content for public outreach.
“We can use drones to identify struggling equipment before it causes an outage. Drones also make it safer and faster to inspect lines in difficult-to-reach areas when crews are locating the cause of the power outage.” – Jason Klenklen, Supervisor of Transmission Maintenance

UAS generated 3D model

Our UAS is outfitted with the technology to allow us to create 3D models of structures. This makes inspections and new project design more efficient and effective.

Equipment Inspection

Drones allow us to easily inspect equipment that would be difficult for humans to access efficiently.

Storm Damage Assessment

When severe weather hits our territory, we can more efficiently inspect and assess any damage created. This allows for repair work to begin quicker in most cases.

Taking Flight

Westar employees begin conducting inspection on transmission equipment using UAS.

How We Got Started

In 2013, Westar saw an opportunity to utilize an emerging technology to help in the maintenance efforts of our transmission system. Unmanned Aerial Systems, or UAS, was this technology. At the time, the world of UAS was beginning to evolve and make its way into the private sector of the United States. In their efforts to keep up with the ever changing world of UAS, the FAA released strict and limiting regulations for commercial operators of UAS. Seeing this, Westar knew that starting up commercial UAS operations would not be something they could undertake on their own. Westar also knew that successfully utilizing UAS would help keep them on the leading edge of the utility industry. After researching potential programs/companies, Westar decided to move forward with a research project with Kansas State University.

The research project with K-State Polytechnic (Salina) shed light on the everchanging regulatory/legislative landscape and laid the foundation for the eventual partnership with K-State beginning in 2014. The partnership with K-State made sense due to the fact that K-State is a local university with a reputable background and program within UAS. The beginning of the partnership was obtaining the necessary Certificate of Authorization (COA)/Exemptions from the FAA, and reviewing inspection strategies on transmission lines. Having a strategic partner in K-State proved to be valuable in the efforts of obtaining these COA’s and exemptions from the FAA. The partnership led to the development/discovery of the many uses for UAS within Westar.

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