In the third of a series of interviews with key figures involved in the success of Drone World Expo, we talked to Hector Ubiñas, Aviation Services Manager, San Diego Gas and Electric. Hector joined SDG&E in September 2016 and has been overseeing the Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) program since starting with the company. In this role, Hector is responsible for the daily operations of the UAS program and continuing to develop new work methods for its application in the utility industry.
At what point in your career did you first become involved with UAS in a professional capacity? Was that during your period with the Navy?
My first involvement with UAS in a professional capacity came during my last tour of duty with the Navy. I was the Aviation Officer onboard the USS New Orleans (LPD 18) in charge of all aviation operations. Not only was the ship operating with the traditional complement of manned aircraft (helicopters), we also had organic UAS assets; Insitu’s Scan Eagle. Our deployment was the first time the ship had to operate with manned and unmanned aircraft simultaneously and I developed the operating procedures to safely integrate both within the ship’s control zone.
At that time, did you imagine that you might be working with UAS in a commercial capacity?
Not at all. My concept of UAS applications was limited to military operations. I did not realize nor appreciate the many benefits unmanned aircraft bring to the civilian commercial sectors.
Are there any experiences/lessons learned from your military experience that could be beneficial to commercial applications?
Of course. My experience integrating unmanned and manned operations in the maritime environment clearly crosses over to the commercial sector where a major safety concern is how to safely fly a drone amidst manned aircraft. Not only that, the time I spent as an instructor has proven extremely beneficial with developing and leading our internal training program which is helping the scale the UAS program across the enterprise.
Can you tell us about how the UAS Program works at SDG&E?
The UAS Program is housed within our Aviation Services Department where we provide program management and oversight to ensure safe operations. We have a hybrid business model where we use internal and contracted RPICs to conduct work with unmanned aircraft. Drones are used for acquiring data for applications such as aerial assessments of structures to post construction surveys with a LiDAR sensor.
Do you have your own fleet and pilots or do you subcontract?
We have both. Our fleet consists of 15 drones that are mostly DJI Inspires, Phantoms, and Mavics. We have 5 trained RPICs and several more in the training program. Our internal operations are limited to applications that require pictures, videos, or thermal imagery. If a more robust UAS or sensor is required, then we reach out to the experts in the industry and subcontract them to conduct the work (like LiDAR acquisition).
Why did you choose to support Drone World Expo?
DWE is one of the leading commercial drone conferences in the nation and we were honored to be considered to participate in the expo. We recognize the valuable networking opportunity it provides along with the ability to see the latest technological advances the industry has to offer. We are excited to be a part of DWE and look forward to sharing and learning from the many other end users there.