While Pine Bluff Wastewater Utility manager Ken Johnson is well known for his skills as a pilot, he can’t fly the company’s newest investment, a drone.

“This is cutting-edge technology,” Johnson said about the drone, which wastewater acquired about two months ago. “We’ve got over 400 miles of pipes, a lot of them located in wooded areas. We can use the drone to survey them for leaks without having to send people in.”

Wastewater Utility employee Darren James operates the unmanned aerial drone, which has a range of about two-and-a-half miles and is battery powered. James received training on operating the drone in Mississippi and is certified by the FAA.

He said the drone will be used for smoke tests, that is, when wastewater employees drop smoke bombs into a line and the drone will be high enough in the air to see if smoke escapes, which would indicate leaks in the pipes.

So far, weather conditions have limited the use of the drone, but Johnson said with better weather, it will be used more frequently.

He said Springdale Water is the only other public utility he is aware of that is currently using a drone, and their issues are similar to Pine Bluff Wastewater Utility. Insurance companies are also making use of drones to survey damage as was done in Jefferson County following the recent hail storm.