The Middle East has proven to be a sustainable land of opportunity for UAV operations associated with the hydrocarbon sector.
This opinion piece presents the opinions of the author.
The view from above shows a significant increase in drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), operations throughout the oil and gas industry. A 2016 Bloomberg Technology report states that the global market for commercial applications of drone technology, currently estimated at about $2 billion, will rocket to as much as $127 billion by 2020.
With the Middle East currently producing around 65 percent of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil, the region has proven to be a sustainable land of opportunity for UAV operations associated with the hydrocarbon sector.
Business Development Manager, Cyberhawk Innovations
After an enthusiastic response from the oil and gas industry within the UK and Europe, Cyberhawk took its first flight into one of the largest oil producing regions in the world - the Middle East - in 2012. The company’s operations in the area, however, have encountered some minor speed bumps.
One of the biggest challenges has been securing the relevant flight permissions to operate within the Middle East. Worldwide, certain countries have formal regulations in place, with set guidelines and procedures which makes it easier to secure flight permissions. However, in the Middle East it is a different story. Legislation is still maturing and gaining the correct permission for the legal operation of a commercial UAV is has proven to be a slight issue for Cyberhawk. Because each country within the region differs, the company has to approach each project on a case by case basis.
Despite this, Cyberhawk has seen some positive changes since its first flight in the Middle East. The technology has been carefully observed and its benefits are now being recognized and, most importantly, understood. To date, Cyberhawk has carried out inspections of more than 75 live flares along with other oil and gas structures in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Oman, Saudi Arabia and most recently, Qatar.
UAV Prohibition in Qatar
Historically the use of UAVs in Qatar for industrial purposes was prohibited, but with Cyberhawk’s operational experience in the region and track record of more than 13,000 flights completed successfully, the company was permitted to carry out the first ever commercial oil and gas inspection in the country earlier this year.
The project, which saw the inspection of 446-foot high flares, while still operational, was completed at an onshore oil and gas refinery in March. This marked a major step forward in the commercial use of drones in the region, which to date had been heavily regulated by the Qatari government due to concerns over the security of airspace and the privacy of citizens.
The industrial inspection work which Cyberhawk undertakes involves highly skilled pilots who can fly close to structures at onshore and offshore oil and gas facilities, and experienced engineers who can create detailed reports with engineering commentary.
Each of Cyberhawk’s pilots are put through four levels of training, with the top level being offshore oil and gas pilot status. These pilots will have at least 18 months of experience before reaching the fourth level, which ensures they are adequately trained and experienced to operate in an extreme offshore environment.
Increasing Awareness of UAV Technology in the Middle East
Cyberhawk has ultimately created the UAV market for industrial inspection in the Middle East, which previously did not exist.
The industry is becoming aware of the vast benefits on offer through the use of UAVs, including significant cost and time savings. Over the next few years these trends will continue to be the epicentre of growth, innovation, sustainability and succession.
UAV technology is becoming more established and more accepted, with drone inspections of tall, live and difficult to access structures in the oil and gas industry emerging as best practice around the world.
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