Equinor is working with Norwegian airport regulator Avinor to deploy drones to inspect oil and gas rigs in the North Sea, reported Bloomberg News.

Equinor technology, digital and innovation executive vice-president Hege Skryseth was cited as saying that by establishing an autonomous air traffic management system, Norway’s coast will be an easier environment in which to use drones. Equinor expects thousands of flights between installations in the coming years.

The Norwegian oil company is also considering using underwater drones, which are scheduled to undergo a trail run in May 2023.

Equinor air transport adviser Alexander Blokhus said that the process for approving flights needs to be updated as vehicles become more commonplace.

By working with Avinor, Equinor expects the flight approval times to be reduced to 30 minutes.

Blokhus said that between ten and 15 types of drones, capable of carrying loads of a tonne or more, could be in use for offshore operations.

“When we come to realise this, it is going to be a very important part of our business going forward,” Skryseth said. “When it comes to drones, I think we are only at the beginning.”

In addition, Equinor is considering the use of robots to address jobs that are especially dangerous, far away or boring.

Equinor robotics and drones head Svein Ivar Sagatun said that robots are being tested both on and offshore. These robots feature thermal cameras for detecting gas leaks, plus video and audio recording equipment.