A new publication to help guide the growing offshore use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS), also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or drones, has been published by oil & gas UK.
The ‘Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations Management Standards and Guidelines’ was developed by a work group set up by the trade body, involving industry and aviation safety experts and including UAS operators.
Mick Borwell, Health, Safety and environment director at oil & gas UK, explains: “A small but increasing number of oil and gas operators are using UAS, predominantly for inspections, but also for aerial photography, surveying and security.
The technology is particularly attractive for its use in improving safety. For example, sending unmanned aircraft instead of people into confined spaces to conduct inspections reduces risk, and is also effective and efficient. We expect their usage to grow.”
The new guidelines aim to achieve consistency with the high safety and operating standards already adopted on the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) for offshore oil and gas production and helicopter flight operations. “The intention is to encourage offshore operators planning on using this emerging technology to think about the whole operating and safety system offshore and not just the air vehicle,” says Mr Borwell.
The Oil & Gas UK document is not the first guideline produced for the use of drones. Last year, for instance, Lloyd’s Register published their ‘Guidance Notes for Inspection Using UAVs’. The Oil & Gas UK document was developed to complement these documents and also provide more detailed information specific to oil and gas operations on the UKCS.
“The guidelines have evolved from lessons learned in recent years and provide information about best practice, procedures and the certification needed to be compliant with UAS regulations,” Mr Borwell continues. “They are an important piece of work addressing the application of new technology to the offshore environment which will help to ensure that operations in the North Sea remain as safe as they can be.”
The guidelines were developed at the request of oil and gas operators and UAS operators to ensure that the requirements for safe and effective operations are fully documented. Malcolm Connolly, founder of Cyberhawk and member of the Oil & Gas UK working group, who has first-hand experience of operating UAS offshore, says, “The creation of these guidelines marks a step-change for the offshore inspection industry and reflects the fact that the vast majority of oil and gas operators, both offshore as well as onshore, are now using UAS. This has driven the need for an industry-specific set of standards.” He continues, “The UK offshore sector already boasts stringent safety and operating standards in other areas of aviation. The introduction of these guidelines marks an important milestone within the sector and a recognition that adoption of UAS technology will continue to grow with a clearer set of guidelines to work to.”
“Training and competence play a key role in the new guidelines, as does the reliability of equipment being used and the track record and experience of the UAS operator in question. These guidelines significantly exceed the current minimum requirements set out by the UK CAA for general commercial UAS operations, which is a crucial factor in allowing the continued use of drones to improve the offshore inspection industry.
We are particularly pleased that Oil & Gas UK sought to involve the UAS operators themselves, which we believe has made a fundamental impact when compared with other industry-specific UAS guidelines which have been produced elsewhere,” Mr Connolly concludes.