FPL Makes History Launching First-Ever Fixed-Wing Drone for Commercial Use
Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) launched the first-ever commercial uncrewed fixed-wing drone, of this scale, used outside of a Federal Aviation Association (FAA) test site for research and development. FPLAir One, as it’s called, is capable of flying from South Florida to North Florida to the panhandle and back, all on a single flight, capturing high-quality images and videos of FPL infrastructure. This helps crews identify potential issues before an outage occurs and quickly provides crews with critical information to get the lights back on following severe weather.
“We’re always looking for new ways to improve on our industry-leading reliability and enhance the way we serve more than 12 million people each day,” said FPL Chairman and CEO Eric Silagy. “FPLAir One is a game-changer for our customers and a prime example of how our employees are not afraid to lead and challenge the status quo. Being able to quickly put eyes on infrastructure in our service area – which extends across more than half the state – is a huge benefit to our customers and will help us continue to push the envelope as we work to improve the resiliency of our system.”
Trained pilots from the company’s FPLAir Mobile Command Center and Distribution Control Center in West Palm Beach remotely operate FPLAir One. The drone can fly in tropical storm force winds, even before lineworkers are able to safely begin restoring power, gathering real-time information and identifying the causes of outages. This allows FPL to get the right crews and the right equipment to the right place, speeding restoration efforts.
FPL expects the drone will also improve service reliability in day-to-day operations. FPLAir One is equipped with innovative technology that can reveal issues with FPL equipment that are undetectable to the naked eye. LiDAR technology can create a digital twin of FPL infrastructure, accurate to the centimeter, and detect changes in heat on the equipment, which may help crews take actions to prevent an outage. FPLAir One can also identify the health and species of vegetation, which is one of the leading causes of outages, and help crews keep it away from equipment, as well as detect other aircraft.
FPLAir One is the latest part of the company’s ever-growing drone fleet. FPL first began using drones operationally in 2016, and in 2021 conducted 120,000 flights. For perspective, Palm Beach International Airport had around 160,000 take offs and landings in 2021. Following Hurricane Irma in 2017, the company conducted 1,325 flights immediately after the storm, capturing more than 12,000 pictures and videos that assisted crews with restoration.