Helicopter with saw helps to trim around power lines

CREATED Mar 11, 2014

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PLYMOUTH - March is the perfect time to do a bit of tree trimming since you don't have to worry about leaves or the foliage.  But the American Transmission Company (ATC) is going to new heights to trim the trees around their power lines.

"Why is there a helicopter in the sky with a big saw hanging from it?" is the question many people in Fond du Lac, Sheboygan, Manitowoc and Brown county have been asking over the last few weeks.  Curious communities looking skyward and seeing the unique sight of a helicopter with a 90 foot boom hanging down, attached to 10 circular saws skimming the tree-line.

Some may even be worried that the entire contraption is flying incredibly close to the power-lines but ATC Transmission Vegetation Management Specialist Ben Gura says that’s exactly what the helicopter is supposed to do: trim the trees that getting too close to transmission lines.  "These are trees that don't have to be cut down; they just need a haircut basically, so the helicopter does it in a very efficient and safe manner."

ATC hired the helicopter company AerialSolutions, Inc. to trim branches with a 150 foot wide safety zone, called the “right-of-way”, that surrounds the 345,000 volt transmission lines.  "We're trying to eliminate any risks of trees not only coming in contact with the lines on a still day like this, but on a windy day, a snowy day.  These trees, if they fall, won't come in contact with the power lines," Anne Spaltholz explains.  It’s a way they to potentially prevent power outages before they occur Spaltholz says, "Bottom line is really about public safety and about ensuring that they lights stay on for everyone in the communities."

But why use a helicopter with a 90 foot boom, supporting ten, 25-inch circular, spinning saws?  Gura answers that this solution is faster, "This is something that can trim trees so much quicker than having a person go up into a tree and spend time hanging from a rope.  I'd rather have a saw and just one person in a helicopter do it.”  Because in some of most heavily wooded areas along ATC’s 9,480 miles of transmissions lines, like the area just southwest of Plymouth, it would take manual crews a week of work to accomplish what the helicopter can in roughly an hour because of the number of trees.

Spaltholz adds that it also saves the company some cash, "We like to work on a 5 year cycle so by doing the helicopter air saw in this area, that can extend the cycle a little bit so it’s very cost effective."