Rio Tinto Kennecott deploys drones to monitor mine operations

SALT LAKE COUNTY -- Rio Tinto Kennecott employees have developed a new drone program to better monitor safety and predict potential hazards at the mine.

They started developing the drone program four years ago, and one year ago they started contracting drone pilots.

They began training their own employees to become drone pilots in January, and now they have five drones and pilot about four to five flights a day.

Matthew Key is the Chief Drone Pilot at Kennecott.

“The best things to using drones is to improve safety,” Key said. “We are able to pull employees out of hazardous areas and let them access it remotely.”

Key and Rio Tinto Kennecott spokesperson Kyle Bennett also reflected back on April 2013, when 150 million tons of debris fell in a slide in the mine. He said technology predicted the slide, and these drones will add to their ability to keep operations at the mine running safely.

“We knew then that that slide was coming, but what this drone technology does for us is provides access to areas that we previously didn't have access to," Bennett said. "There is no way to put somebody up on a high wall, so we can take these drones to locations like that, on top of roofs.”

Each pilot at Kennecott underwent training to fly the drones, and all members of the team are FAA certified.