Austrian Power Grid and SmartDigital write aviation history
Austrian Power Grid and SmartDigital write aviation history

Test flight: first civil long-distance drone flight over a 100 km long transmission line successful.

A secure energy supply is one of the most important foundations of our modern society. Therefore it is so important that hard- and software of this infrastructure are fully operable, intact and inspected and maintained on a regular basis. In the future these inspection flights could be carried out with unmanned drones, especially in weather conditions where conventional helicopter flights are not possible (e.g. at night or in foggy conditions).

The first test flight where an unmanned drone covered a distance of 100 km showed in what areas of the economy the use of drones makes sense. Magnus Brunner, state secretary in the Austrian Federal Ministry of Climate Action, Environment, Mobility, Innovation and Technology: “Drones facilitate many innovations and make our life easier in many areas. Their fields of application are versatile and promising and their potential for the future is very big. For a country like Austria, which is characterized by its medium-sized aviation component suppliers, this potential is a great opportunity.”

In a joint project with SmartDigital and Austro Control Austrian Power Grid (APG) has written Austrian aviation history with this maiden flight. Gerhard Christiner, APG’s CTO: “This pilot project shows how we can inspect our lines even better in in cases of disruption. It will help us to find and repair the disturbances more quickly. This is an important contribution to the security of supply and helps to safe costs.” Especially in cases where APG’s infrastructure has been damaged due to natural disasters (avalanches, flooding, subsurface erosion, storms, etc.) such long-distance drone flights can be helpful.

On behalf of APG, SmartDigital successfully carried out this first test flight. Alexander Schuster, CEO of SmartDigital explains how it works: “Previously defined routes are covered by our long-distance drones, fully automated and according to the legal framework conditions defined by Austro Control. The collected data are transparently stored in a blockchain from which they are easily retrievable and thus immediately available for APG, so that their experts can assess the condition of the lines.”

The line that the drone was flying over was the 380-kV line from the substation South-East (in 1100 Vienna) to the province of Burgenland. However, not the whole line was scanned in this first test flight but only the section between Vienna and Rotenturm an der Pinka. “All the time outages occur along high-voltage and highest-voltage lines, which we cannot clearly identify. A quick check with a drone would help immensely in these cases, because often there is only the need to check whether everything is alright after a short interruption of power transmission”, says Thomas Karall, APG’s CFO. Until this vision becomes reality – like with self-driving cars – many test flights are necessary and the appropriate legal regulations have to be put in place.

After an intensive preparation phase and comprehensive risk assessment Austro Control (the Austrian air navigation services provider) has given permission to carry out this first long-distance beyond-line-of-sight drone flight. For Austro Control’s managing director Axel Schwarz the excellent cooperation with APG was a decisive factor for the success of the project. “The innovation potential of drones is enormous, and it is our declared aim to promote innovative applications both as aeronautical authority and air-traffic controller, and we want to be a partner for the Austrian aviation industry”, says Austro Control’s managing director Axel Schwarz.

In the near future APG wants to continue to develop its knowhow and use the state-of-the art technology for inspections. “What will always be important are experienced staff members with well-founded expert knowledge, who are able to assess and interpret the algorithms in a plausible way and then initiate the necessary measures”, says Karall.

About Austrian Power Grid (APG)
Austrian Power Grid (APG) is Austria’s independent transmission system operator in charge of monitoring and managing the nationwide transmission network. Its infrastructure is the lifeline of the country, its population and its businesses. The APG network totals a length of about 3,400 km and is operated, maintained and continuously adapted to the increasing challenges of economy and society by a team of more than 600 specialists. The capacities of the APG grid are the precondition for a successful energy transition. APG’s staff develop suitable market products, have an excellent knowledge of physics and ensure security and efficiency of supply for Austria. With an investment volume of 350 million Euros in 2020 for the expansion and renovation of the grid infrastructure, APG will provide an important impulse for the domestic construction industry. Over the next ten years APG will invest a total of 2.9 billion Euros in grid expansion and renovation projects, which amounts to approximately 16 percent of the total of 18 billion Euros which the energy industry will invest in the grid development over the next ten years. In the Sustainable Brand Rating 2020 APG has been voted number one in the category ‘public utility infrastructure’, and finished second in the overall ranking of the category ‘investment’.

About Austro Control:
Austro Control makes sure that air traffic in the Austrian air space is safe, environmental-friendly and on-time. Air-traffic controllers of the Area Control Center and in the Approach Control Centers and Towers of all Austrian airports are guiding the airplanes safely and efficiently through the Austrian airspace. The responsibilities of Austro Control comprise air-traffic management, construction and operation of ATS facilities, aviation weather service, control of airworthiness and certification of aircrafts, issuing of pilot licenses, search and rescue services, control of flight training schools and the permission of the operation of drones.

About SmartDigital:
With their own fleet of drones (unmanned aircraft systems, UAS) SmartDigital facilitates the efficient collection of image data from above. This creates new possibilities of application, e.g. in the fields of critical infrastructure monitoring, public safety or agriculture and forestry. SmartDigital transfers the collected data in the digital world and offers a new and “practicable” product portfolio through the combination of UAS and various systems of digital data analysis and documentation using “artificial intelligence (AI)” and blockchains.

Pressimages - © Carolina Burger/APG
ltr: Alexander Schuster (SmartDigital), Thomas Karall (APG), undersecretary of state Magnus Brunner, Axel Schwarz (Austro Control), Gerhard Christiner (APG)