Robotics/unmanned systems

Delivering to Offshore Oil Rigs With Uncrewed Aviation: A Reality That Needs Some Help

With the growing reliability of uncrewed aircraft, oil companies are now eager to have offshore rigs supplied in a more systematic and autonomous way. So, why haven’t we heard more about using uncrewed craft?

Aerial view oil rig
Source: Angel Ramirez/Getty Images

In the mad race to make uncrewed aviation profitable, some companies are finding niche markets that are possible today within the framework of Federal Aviation Administration regulations and the realities of public perception and safety issues.

Subindustries such as agricultural spraying and rural package deliveries are having acceptable success rates given the nature of the environment in which the flight takes place and the specific conditions that surround the operation.

So, let us list the issues that contribute to whether one specific mission would be successful:

  • Operations over people—If a mission involves flying over populated areas, the chances of profitability and fast deployment diminish rapidly.
  • Flying altitude—If the operation requires that the uncrewed aircraft flies high or very high, the objections from the regulator to the idea would increase exponentially.
  • Ownership of the terrain below—If the mission involves flying over tens or even hundreds of properties of different ownership and jurisdictions, the logistical and jurisdictional nightmares have just begun.

In short, missions that do not operate over people and fly low, over a uniformly owned terrain have a greater chance of success than those that fly high and over populated zones and urban areas.
Agricultural spraying is the perfect example: The mission takes place at very low altitude, just a few feet over the plants being sprayed; the terrain is private; and you are flying with permission from the owner and there are absolutely no humans below your aircraft (hopefully!).

What other business possibilities are out there that comply with all three of these arbitrary parameters? Offshore oil rig supply comes immediately to mind. The flight might be performed at low altitude, over water and will take off and land on private property.

So, why haven’t we heard more about this highly profitable industry taking off like a rocket? We decided to dig a little bit into the issue and found an interesting set of facts that would definitely delay these deliveries for a while.

First, most of these oil rigs and platforms were constructed decades ago before satellite navigation/surveying was a reality therefore their exact coordinates are unknown.

But how can that be? Well, these marine structures have been supplied and maintained by the same group of people over years, and the knowledge of their exact location has been passed from generation to generation in some haphazard way.

With the growing reliability of uncrewed aircraft, including extended flying times and higher useful payload of multirotors and fixed-wing, hybrid powerplant drones, oil companies are now eager to have these important oil-producing assemblies supplied in a more systematic and autonomous way.

Read the full story here.