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Photo (L-R): TLC vegetation manager Jason Gaukrodger and general manager – network Gerhard Buitendach inspect single line diagrams of the TLC network.

TLC to launch drones, helicopters across network

18 December 2023

A major operation aimed at photographing 43,000 power poles across the network will be launched by The Lines Company (TLC) in early 2024.

For the first time, TLC will use a combination of helicopters and drones to photograph critical electricity infrastructure on top of 8,000 urban and 35,000 rural poles.

The six to eight week operation will replace an arduous process which previously saw crews forced to reach isolated poles, sometimes on foot, to check their condition.

TLC’s general manager – network Gerhard Buitendach said while helicopter inspections were now common for TLC, the combined helicopter and drone operation with visual images, over an intense six to eight week period, was new.

“Our network is spread across incredibly challenging terrain and we have poles in isolated and hard-to-reach areas. In the past, it was taking up to 15 years to get around all the poles and that is just not acceptable when you’re trying to stay on top of maintenance,” Buitendach said.

“This will absolutely transform our maintenance programme and means for the first time, we will have a real-time picture of the state of our pole top assets in one go. That’s going to be critical in securing a much more reliable and secure energy supply for the King Country and central plateau.”

The inspection programme will cover all 43,000 poles including cross-arms, insulator conductors, pole top switches and transformers. Around 4,000km of power lines will be traversed during the operation.

In urban areas, drones will fly along the length of overhead lines, stopping at each pole to take photos. In rural areas, helicopters will be used.

“Our helicopter contractor will be using a helicopter without a tail rotor because it’s quieter and they will be doing a survey flight each morning to check for stock and avoid animals where possible.”

Depending on the weather, work is set to begin in late January in the northern part of the network, before the operation moves south.

Once the photographs and video are received they will be analysed and each asset will receive a condition score. Those scores will be used to plan asset replacement and renewal over the next 10 years.

TLC currently invests around $20 million per year in the electricity network which serves 24,000 customers.

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