Vegetation management for First Energy’s Met-Ed provided by massive flying saws

An aerial saw performs vegetation management for FirstEnergy's Met-Ed in eastern PA. Credit: FirstEnergy

Last week, Metropolitan Edison (Met-Ed), a subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp said it will use a helicopter equipped with an aerial saw to trim trees and maintain electrical clearances along four difficult-to-access transmission line corridors crossing York and Adams Counties. The work is expected to conclude by the end of May.

Maintaining proper clearances around transmission lines and electrical equipment is an important part of resiliency planning and preparation for utilities as it contributes to the reduction and duration of tree-related power outages, especially those associated with severe weather such as spring and summer thunderstorms.

Resiliency Planning and Preparation is an educational track at DISTRIBUTECH International. Learn about all of our conference tracks here.

The helicopter trimming trees along the transmission lines is a white Hughes MD500 with blue and yellow stripes prominently marked with a registration number of N53846 in blue paint, said the utility. The helicopter and saw are owned and operated by Aerial Solutions and will work only as weather conditions permit.

The aerial saw will trim trees along the sides of 50 miles of four high-voltage transmission lines including:

  • A 230-kilovolt (kV) line in York County near the Susquehanna River between Brunner Island and Yorkana
  • A 230-kV line in York County that runs from Yorkana toward Freysville, Spry, Leader Heights and New Salem Borough
  • A 115-kV line in Adams County that runs from Hunterstown just north of Gettysburg toward Gardners
  • A 115-kV line in York County that runs from Tolna, crossing I-83 near Shrewsbury toward Glen Rock

Suspended on a boom beneath the helicopter and equipped with multiple 24-inch rotary blades, the aerial saw is typically deployed along transmission lines in areas that are environmentally sensitive or inaccessible to bucket trucks and other vehicles. This efficient method of trimming typically covers more area in a day than a ground crew might complete in a week, said First Energy in a press release. The saw also eliminates the risk of injury to workers using bucket trucks or climbing trees to cut limbs near high voltage equipment.

The saw cuts tree limbs 8 to 10 inches in diameter, which fall straight to the ground propelled by air blasts from the helicopter rotors. Ground crews move limbs that have fallen onto roadways, yards, agricultural fields or in streams into adjacent wooded areas. The ground crew will also flag and stop motorists along roads if the helicopter saw is working nearby.

The helicopter flies above and alongside transmission lines and may circle around to perform additional trimming. The pilot communicates with local airport personnel whenever the helicopter is operating within their air space.   

Since the beginning of the year, tree contractors have trimmed along nearly 1,200 miles of distribution and transmission lines in the Met-Ed area as part of the company’s $28 million vegetation management program for 2021. Met-Ed’s program remains on schedule to complete an additional 2,000 miles of work by year end.

Trimming trees around power lines is critical to providing reliable electric service for Met-Ed customers. In 2020, the utility said it experienced 11 percent fewer tree-related outages than in 2019.  

Met-Ed serves approximately 580,000 customers within 3,300 square miles of eastern and southeastern Pennsylvania.

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Jennifer Runyon is a Content Director at Clarion Energy, writing, editing and posting content on POWERGRID International and planning conference sessions for DISTRIBUTECH's live and virtual events. She as the conference advisory committee chair for DISTRIBUTECH International. You can reach her at

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