Sky-Futures USA earns UAV exemption for oil, gas inspection

By Emily Aasand | March 19, 2015

Sky-Futures USA, an unmanned aircraft vehicle inspection service, has received a U.S. Federal Aviation Administration exemption to use Ascending Technology’s Falcon 8 drone for inspection services in the oil and gas industry.

“Now Sky-Futures USA can operate commercially, this technology will provide jobs, promote innovation and most importantly lead to improved safety for the oil and gas market in America,” said Jason Forte, vice president of business development at Sky-Futures USA. “Our unique blend of veteran unmanned technology expertise and significant oil and gas experience is already enhancing safety with proven savings of more than $4 million for offshore drone inspections.”

Sky-Futures has had a strong presence in the global drone inspection market and has done work for companies including Chevron and Conoco Phillips, after getting its start in the U.K. four years ago. With the U.S. making up nearly one-third of the global oil market, Forte said the Gulf of Mexico would “be a huge source of work for our team.”

Sky-Futures services include flare stack inspections as well as work on communication towers on off-shore oil platforms. “We can check under the decks, as well,” said Forte. “We can look at splash zones and see if anything has rusted or corroded.” Utilizing the UAV technology would reduce typical inspection risks, reduce inspection times and associated costs, which would provide significant savings, the company added.

Forte added that pipeline inspections become more prominent in the future once the FAA determines regulations for beyond-line-of-sight UAVs. “While the technology is there for that, the regulations haven’t caught up with it yet, so that could be years away,” he said.

“The way it happens now is that the platform has to be shut down completely and then a man will do the inspection, which could cost millions of dollars,” said Forte. “With our UAV, we can give high definition pictures of the flare stack while they’re producing the whole time. The cost benefit there is tremendous and it’s much safer.”

“We have been preparing for the Section 333 exemption for some time in the U.S., with clients ready to commission work upon approval,” said Chris Blackford, global operations director and co-founder of Sky-Futures. “As a result, the approval granted today allows Sky-Futures USA to immediately begin delivering its cutting edge drone technology service to cut cost, boost efficiency and improve safety on U.S. oil and gas infrastructure in America.”


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