Energy infrastructure research flights completed in Virginia

By Patrick C. Miller | June 09, 2016

American Aerospace Technologies Inc. (AATI) last month completed flight tests in Virginia using unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to inspect energy industry infrastructure.

According to David Yoel, company CEO, the flights were made from the Farmville (Virginia) Regional Airport and were the first in the state to originate from an operating airport while using a system that provided real-time data to end users.

The research was sponsored through the Pipeline Research Council International Inc. and included energy companies and AATI partners interested in testing and evaluating sensors, analytics and aircraft to improve the safety and integrity of linear infrastructure, which includes oil and natural gas pipelines and electric transmission lines.

Based in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, Yoel said AATI has been developing sensors and analytics since 2010 to improve aerial patrol of pipeline corridors. More recently, he said the company began using drones, which include long-endurance UAS for pipeline and electrical transmission line patrol and small electric drones for inspecting towers and other facilities.

In 2015, AATI conducted two beyond visual line of sight UAS campaigns on pipeline corridors in central Virginia under a Certificate of Authorization (COA) issued by the FAA to the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP) at Virginia Tech. The most recent flights from the Farmville airport were conducted under a new MAAP COA covering an area of nearly 5,000 square miles in central Virginia.

Yoel said the support of MAAP, energy companies, the airport and the office of Gov. Terry McAuliffe have created “a uniquely valuable environment to conduct the aviation research needed to accelerate safe integration of UAS into the national airspace, and to test and evaluate the sensors, analytics and communications systems needed to address the key challenges facing industry.”

AATI also announced that it has entered into a contract with a major refined products supplier to provide remote sensing data collection services using UAS at refineries and at facilities along pipelines. The company is also collecting data by employing its sensors on manned aircraft.