VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Virginia Natural Gas will be one of the first natural gas utilities in the Commonwealth to use aerial drones to perform inspections on its pipeline infrastructure.
These unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones, will begin flights across Hampton Roads and northern James and New Kent Counties to inspect critical infrastructure, perform right-of-way assessments and inspect more than 5,500 miles of gas pipeline.
Virginia Natural Gas will also conduct a pilot program for its sister companies in Illinois, Georgia and Tennessee, all of which fall under its parent company, Southern Company Gas.
VNG will employ self-dispatched Mavic 2 Pro drones that allow engineers and asset protection and construction managers to have the opportunity to use these drones as part of their daily work.
Traditional methods for pipeline inspection have been slower, manually intensive, expensive and sometimes caused safety concerns due to the surrounding natural environment. While natural gas pipelines are underground, they are accessed from above the surface for maintenance and inspection.
Drones that have a visual or infrared camera can now be used for navigating and patrolling a segment of pipeline, identifying and capturing images or videos of areas of interest at pre-defined timings and returns, VNG explains.
A team of three trained "pilots" will fly the drones. These pilots recently obtained their certifications from the Federal Aviation Administration and hope to have the program up and running soon.
"The use of drones is just one of many new innovative technologies Virginia Natural Gas is using to be future-ready. Drones will allow VNG to get aerial views of our infrastructure where access is sometimes hard to get to, allowing us to minimize any environmental impact or inconvenience to customers along rights-of-way and provide another layer of safety for our inspectors in the field. During storms and hurricanes, drone technology will allow us immediate access and eyes on visual imagery from above of pipelines and infrastructure so that we can make any immediate repairs to the system if needed," the company said of how drones will benefit its customers.
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