In partnership with the start-up in Navarre, FuVeX, UFD is making the first drone flight beyond line of sight over an electricity grid in Spain

  •  The electricity distributor, a member of the Naturgy group, has become the leading company in this type of power line monitoring operations. Naturgy’s goal is to use this technology on a regular basis from 2020 onwards.
  • The success of this first flight stems from a partnership between UFD, FuVeX, AESA and ENAIRE.

UFD, an electricity distribution subsidiary of Naturgy, has entered a partnership with the start-up in Navarre, FuVeX, which has developed an aircraft with a patented design, to enable its power lines to be inspected more efficiently and eliminating the safety risks for operators.

Work on developing the idea began in the autumn of 2018 with a detailed analysis of the operation in terms of safety and compliance with current regulations. Following various technical adjustments and tests, UFD has now successfully completed the first unmanned flight beyond the line of sight over an electricity power line in Spain. More specifically, the flight was made in Huete (Cuenca).

UFD is promoting the use of long-range drones with control beyond the line of sight to inspect its power lines. The goal is to improve the productivity of these reconnaissance operations using a drone that is somewhere between a helicopter and a conventional drone, combining increased autonomy with lower costs. This is the first flight of this nature in Spain, making UFD the leading company for this type of operation.

Raúl Suárez, the General Manager of UFD, said that “our company is synonymous with open innovation and we are constantly focused on internal talent and combining our knowledge with external talent. By doing that, we can better see how to generate and develop new ideas and products capable of bringing added value to the market. That was precisely the case with this long-distance power line inspection project using aircraft beyond the line of sight, positioning us on the cutting edge of this field in Spain and Europe”.

The start-up, FuVeX, has designed a hybrid aeroplane/multi-rotor vehicle with a patented design that is easily operated thanks to its vertical take-off/landing from any flat surface and its airplane mode cruising, with up to five times more range than helicopters and multi-rotor vehicles. The aircraft includes systems for safe, legal and airspace coordinated flight.

A project driving forward the national industry

At present, power lines are checked by drones that fly within the line of sight; i.e. within a maximum of 500 metres from the pilot. The agreement between UFD and FuVeX was signed within the framework of current regulations and also anticipates European regulations in the BVLOS category (Beyond Visual Line of Sight). The objective sought by UFD and FuVeX is to take drones to their next industrial level -long-distance flights- and become the first company to operate drones at an industrial scale at long BVLOS distances over power lines in 2020 in Europe.

Public-private partnership

The first flight was also made possible thanks to a partnership and coordination with the State Aviation Safety Agency (AESA), which is responsible for overseeing operations with drones up to 150 kg, and ENAIRE, the air navigation and aeronautical information manager in Spain, the fourth-largest in Europe in terms of traffic volume and one of the most important in the world.

UFD in Spain

Naturgy’s electricity distributor is the third-largest operator in Spain, with operations in Galicia, where it is the largest electricity distributor, the Region of Madrid, Castile-La Mancha and Castile-Leon. At present, it serves more than 3.7 million supply points via a network of 113,000 kilometres of high-, medium- and low-voltage power lines

UFD has made a major effort in recent years on innovation and the application of new technologies to make progress in the field of remote measurement and tele-management of supply points, on telecommand and remote sensors for networks, and on making infrastructures more robust and integrating communication networks and information systems into the conventional network to streamline operation.

These efforts have led to a 22% improvement in the electricity supply quality from Naturgy’s electricity distributor, standing at 39.8 minutes of interruption time equivalent to installed capacity (TIEPI) in 2018, making UFD a European leader in supply quality.