Notice helicopters patrolling electric lines? It’s probably a LiDAR equipped chopper from your energy company

13 May 2024- As foliage begins to grow and sway in spring and summer breezes, FirstEnergy is conducting proactive aerial inspections of nearly 7,000 miles of transmission lines in its service territory using helicopters equipped with infrared technology. This work helps ensure that high-voltage power lines and equipment remain clear of trees and vegetation.

The aerial vegetation management inspections are scheduled to take place from May to mid-September in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and New York. The helicopters will fly approximately 300 to 400 feet above the transmission lines at speeds between 25 and 35 miles per hour.

A FirstEnergy helicopter pilot working to inspect powerlines by the skies

The helicopters will be equipped with light detection and ranging (LiDAR) units, which FirstEnergy began using for vegetation management inspections in 2016. The units help prevent potential power outages by using a laser’s infrared light to measure distances between transmission lines and vegetation, confirming that lines are clear or identifying potential issues that cannot be observed during regular visual inspections. If any clearance concerns are identified by the helicopter patrols, ground crews will follow up to further inspect or address.

Shawn Standish, FirstEnergy’s Director of Vegetation Management: “This cutting-edge technology helps to ensure that we are keeping our transmission lines clear of potential interference across our service territory, which is critical to protecting our system and maintaining the delivery of safe, reliable power to our customers.”

The helicopter pilots will communicate with local airports when they are in their air space. Inclement weather could, however, impact flight schedules and extend the timeline of the inspections.