Southern California Edison plans to start low-altitude helicopter flights over populated areas of Malibu starting Monday, the utility company announced Friday.
The company is doing detailed aerial inspections of its entire overhead power line system in all high fire risk districts, and has found that aerial inspections are more accurate than ground-based efforts, spokesman David Song told KBUU radio Friday.
The low flying chopper flights will start Monday. Test flights were scheduled late Friday afternoon as well.
SCE is under order from the California Public Utilities Commission to rapidly assess the physical condition of its power lines and poles this summer, before the start of the traditional autumn fire season.
"Malibu residents should be aware that these flights are happening," spokesman David Song told KBUU News. "It is not some sort of black helicopter operation."
Details about the exact nature of the aerial data gathering were not immediately available. But in the past, engineers have used infrared-based cameras to look at poles and cross-arms for places where electric voltage may be seeping across insulators and flowing into the wood.
Malibu experienced 14 power outages in one weekend in October, 2017, when fog blanketed Malibu and moistened built-up coastal dirt that had accreted on Edison power line insulators. The dirt allowed electricity to flow around the insulation, causing wood fires and possible transformer explosions.
SCE employees told KBUU News that the dirt buildup had formerly been washed away regularly by special trucks using sprayers on booms, but that the company had stopped doping that to save money several years earlier.
The insulator washing program was resumed, and fewer outages have been noticed.