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FAA says SDG&E can test small unmanned aircraft

San Diego Gas & Electric has been given the green light to use an unmanned aircraft system for research, testing and training in a sparsely populated East County area.

The approval came from the Federal Aviation Administration, which recently granted SDG&E a Special Airworthiness Certificate for a small unmanned aircraft system, or UAS. The utility is reportedly the first in the nation to be granted such approval for the technology.

“The unmanned aircraft system provides us with another tool in our electric and gas operations tool chest,” Dave Geier, SDG&E’s vice president of electric transmission and system engineering, said.

SDG&E will be able to research, test and train flight crews on the UAS. Geier said it will allow the utility to improve its emergency responses and complete aerial inspections in remote areas that are otherwise difficult to access. The devices measure 16 inches in diameter and weigh less than a pound.

They'll be equipped with a camera to inspect utility equipment and relay live images back to the controller. The four East County areas approved as test areas are approximately 2.5 miles long and half a mile wide, containing no residences or businesses, according to SDG&E.

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