UK-based unmanned aircraft company Flylogix has partnered with Total, air traffic navigation services provider NATS, and the Oil & Gas Technology Centre (OGTC) to launch a North Sea drone initiative.

The project aims to overcome challenges with respect to the UAS inspection activities in the North Sea, and seeks to provide commercial UAS operators with easy access to UK controlled airspace for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations.

Currently, the collaboration is developing a concept for drone operations which allows UAV operators to react within hours of an inspection request and activate routine BVLOS in the North Sea. Involving a consultation with stakeholders, the project aims to establish reliable drone operations alongside existing users in controlled airspace.

FlyLogix executive chairman Charles Tavner said: “This project enables us to conduct daily inspections and emissions measurement without the cost and risk of sending deploying personnel offshore.”

At present, approvals to carry out UAV operations inside UK controlled airspace are expected to take up to three months, with requests considered on a one-by-one basis. This is expected to delay the process of inspection and logistic services.

OGTC project engineer Suzanne Buist said: “By bringing together industry expertise in oilfield robotics and autonomous systems, alongside aviation specialists, collectively we can accelerate the development of robust standards, ensuring safety and reliability remain a priority.

“The integration of this new technology alongside existing airspace users is an important step forward in the adoption of drones to undertake a wide range of operational activities in the North Sea.”

The collaboration leverages FlyLogix’s BVLOS capability, Total’s leadership in robotics for the energy industry, NATS’ experience in unified traffic management, and OGTC’s influence with the offshore industry in the UK.

NATS Aberdeen Airport general manager Daryl Heaselgrave said: “We recognise that such autonomous technology can bring huge benefit to the oil, gas and renewables sector and we believe we can help unmanned aerial vehicles and current airspace users operate safely in an integrated North Sea environment.”